Billions have gone into all these inspections, assessments and rankings of local services. Now the fruits are on offer via a website called Oneplace which has cost a further £220,000.
The combined efforts of the Audit Commission, Care Quality Commission, HM Inspectorates of Constabulary, Prisons and Probation and Ofsted offer "an independent overview of the quality of life in your area." There are a few problems with this. For a start there is really too much information for it to be terribly meaningful. The comments are not really "independent" – they reflect the things that the Government has told the assorted Quangos to measure.
Often these are sensible indicators of performance – areas that most reasonable people would accept as objective measures of the quality of service provided. But others are about all the paperwork being in place – all the boxes ticked. There is also all the politically correct stuff. (An Audit Commission report in my Council's housing offshoot H&F Homes marked the organisation down for not gathering data about the sexual orientation of the tenants and leaseholders. When I asked just what use this data would have been put to if it had been collected there was no clear explanation.)
In his book, A Desolation of Learning, the former Ofsted chief Chris Woodhead called for the organisation to be closed down as it had become useless. I think parents can still get value from Ofsted report – but only by making their own judgement on what Ofsted has praised and criticised. They can no longer regard the overall Ofsted rating of a school as valid.
The other great objection to all this monitoring is the huge cost. Wandsworth and Hammersmith and Fulham are capping the officer time that will be spent on future inspections. I suspect that revolt will grow. The Conservatives have pledged to scrap the Comprehensive Area Assessments.