Magazine article Public Finance

Councils Reach New Peak as Inspection Changes Gear

Magazine article Public Finance

Councils Reach New Peak as Inspection Changes Gear

Article excerpt

The Comprehensive Performance Assessment regime came to an end on a high this week, with record numbers of councils achieving the top four-star rating.

The final set of CPA results, published by the Audit Commission on March 5, showed that 62 councils achieved four-star status, almost triple the number rated excellent when the regime began in 2002.

For the third year running, no authority was given the lowest zero-star rating. Twentysix councils moved up one star category, and two jumped up two categories. Thirty-five were rated as 'improving strongly' more than ever before, and a 17% rise from last year.

Audit Commission chair Michael O'Higgins said: As we say goodbye to the star rating system, it is heartening to see a record number of four-star councils, and 28 rising by one or more categories in this last year alone. There will be many others who, although they have improved their performance, didn't quite make it into the next division.

'We hope they will take this experience and commitment to improvement into Comprehensive Area Assessments from April, and help us to reflect the wider impact of local public services on peoples fives.'

O'Higgins noted that much of the data underpinning the scores predated the recession, but he added that the CPA had ensured many councils were well placed to lead their communities through the economic downturn.

Amid the good news were a few sour notes. Five councils dropped two star categories. Four of these - Haringey, Doncaster, Surrey and Milton Keynes - fell from a three-star rating to one-star because of poorly performing children's services, particularly the safeguarding of vulnerable children.

There was also a slight deterioration in children's services across the board.

Christine Gilbert, head of Ofsted, said the dip in performance was due to her inspectors beginning to probe deeper and 'looking for impact'.

'We want to see that what is going on is making a difference and, in these councils, it's not doing that. We don't think the environment is secure enough,' she said.

Claire Kober, leader of the London Borough of Haringey, said the rating clearly reflected the council's serious problems with children's services, which were highlighted by the Baby P case at the end of last year.

'We accept that things went badly wrong with child protection. We are committed to makingthings right,' she said. Our answer to our overall rating will be to improve our children's safeguarding services and maintain and build on our performance in other areas.'

Surrey County Council leader Nick Skellet said: 'It is disappointing that this CPA score does not wholly reflect the quality of so many of the services. .. but we are well aware that our performance in certain key areas must be much better. …

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