Doubts mount as CPA ratings loom

5 Dec 02
Sir Jeremy Beecham has voiced doubts about the quality of some of the inspections carried out for the Comprehensive Performance Assessment, just one week before the results are unveiled.

06 December 2002

The chair of the Local Government Association told Public Finance that the breakneck speed of the CPA's introduction had provoked concerns about its robustness.

'One of our hesitations about CPA was the speed with which it was introduced. In retrospect, I think speed has been, to some extent, the enemy of high performance,' Beecham said.

'It's been a useful first run, but there are still people who feel the process could be improved, particularly the corporate governance inspections.'

The CPA results for all 150 top-tier authorities will be published on December 12. Beecham said he was confident they would illustrate the healthy state of local services. 'I expect there to be excellent practice, not just in excellent councils, but also in many authorities in the other categories, too.'

Beecham spoke as a group of local authorities unhappy with their CPA results were deciding whether to challenge them in the courts.

A briefing drawn up by law firm Eversheds advises its clients, who are not named, that the CPA process has no basis in law. Briefing author Stephen Cirrell told PF: 'We have advised a number of authorities that the CPA is probably unlawful. It is not authorised by Best Value legislation, that is, the Local Government Act 1999.'

The authorities are expected to decide early next week whether to seek an injunction to stop the results being published.

In the meantime, four authorities have been given the nod that they will be in the top flight. Camden, Gateshead, Hertfordshire and Blackburn with Darwen councils have been praised in an Audit Commission report released on December 5.

A picture of performance sets out what CPA inspectors have identified as the key ingredients of a high-performing authority. It uses the four as examples of excellence, although it stops short of confirming that they are in the top category.

Commission chair James Strachan used the report's publication to defend the CPA. 'It celebrates and publicises the good and excellent work being done by many councils today,' he said. 'It will also free up councils from unnecessary bureaucracy and over-inspection, so we can concentrate resources where the need for improvement is greatest.'

Around 18 councils are expected to be classified as excellent, including Kent, Hampshire, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool.

A similar number are expected to be condemned as poor. These include Islington, Hackney, Greater Manchester and Hull.


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