The New Local Government Network (NLGN) has welcomed the general thrust of the Audit Commission consultation document CPA – The Next Steps and its focus on community governance issues but in doing so called for a radical reform allowing local authorities to request a further corporate assessment rather than await their next scheduled CPA.
Referring to a proposal by the Audit Commission for CPA to be re-done only where councils ‘have achieved or sustained a high level of performance in core services’, NLGN accepts the logic but adds that the net effect may in fact reduce incentives to rapidly improve corporate capacity. Rather than wait until 2006/7, NLGN outlines that there is a “strong case” for letting councils request a CPA:
“This would help position CPA as a driving test – albeit one with a number of levels – with the prize being license to drive a vehicle with more freedom than before. NLGN believes it is important that CPA is seen in this light – in the policy community, it is widely believed that the tide has turned on ‘command and control’ centralism, yet there remain many authorities who do not see CPA principally as a way of gaining more freedom”.
Elsewhere, the NLGN response – based partly on discussions with council leaders and chief executives from its long-established local authority forum – raises concerns about the “catch 22” risks of earned freedoms, stating:
“Without greater freedoms and flexibilities from central government, local authorities’ hands are still tied in many respects, limiting their effectiveness in the community governance role. This does raise this risk of a ‘catch22’ situation, where, to earn further freedoms, councils are assessed on their effectiveness at a part of their role that they need the freedoms to fulfil properly. However, this is probably inevitable, in a climate where autonomy needs to be ‘earned’”.
Moreover, in considering the additional dimensions of CPA addressed in the Audit Commission document as containing individual elements that are “sensible”, NLGN also warns of the danger of assessment becoming “too unwieldy and losing focus”.
In concluding, NLGN restates its general support for CPA and many of the specific proposals outlined in the consultation paper, but warns that the process must be seen primarily as a means to several ends and not an end in itself:
“Proposals need to be tested against the incentives they give for improvement, the information they give to citizens and the role they play in allowing and encouraging central government departments to loosen their grip”.
NLGN’s full response to the Audit Commission consultation document on the future of CPA is available at www.nlgn.org.uk
Enquiries to Ian Parker – 020 7357 0116 / firstname.lastname@example.org
The New Local Government Network is an independent think-tank, seeking to transform public services, revitalise local political leadership and empower local communities.