Two high performing, low tax, councils have slammed the Audit Commission’s new assessment regime, which they say has proved costly and ineffective.
The west London boroughs of Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) and Wandsworth say endless hours have been wasted on serving the commission’s new Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA).
Last year a huge amount of management time – equivalent to £200,000 per authority was spent on providing the Audit Commission with information. In addition, the Commission had the nerve to charge each council more than £100,000 for ‘audit costs’.
Both councils are among the highest performers in the country. Wandsworth has the lowest council tax in Britain and H&F Council’s plans to cut council tax by 3% for a fourth year in a row are generating some of the highest residents’ approval ratings in the UK.
The two elite councils say the costly and bureaucratic nature of complying with Audit Commission demands is not a good use of taxpayers’ money in an age when budgets are being squeezed. They argue that the oppressive and pointless CAA regime hinders councils’ ability to deliver leaner and better quality services.
Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh, H&F Council Leader, says:
“In all my years as council Leader I can count on one hand the number of times I have been asked what rating the Audit Commission gives the council.
“What is vitally important is how local people judge the services they pay for and use and in H&F residents’ satisfaction is up to an all-time high.
“I am a passionate localist and all councils need to be cut free from the centralised bureaucracy and inefficiency of the gargantuan inspection industry if we are going to be able to deliver even better services at a lower cost for taxpayers.”
The councils say a mix of simple performance indicators and costs data – supported by customer satisfaction scores – provide a more objective guide to service quality and value for money. The councils estimate this year’s assessment cost taxpayers more than £300,000 for each authority and tied up hours of senior management time. Similar costs would have been incurred by the other public sector agencies involved.
The Audit Commission will publish findings for all councils on December 9. Both H&F’s and Wandsworth’s assessments, which includes local police, health and fire services, are expected to result in a highly positive outcome – praising the councils for their strong partnership working and top quality, value for money, services.
H&F Council is also rated highly for these services and will be recommended for its outstanding achievement and innovation in delivering value for money to local residents.
Wandsworth Council leader Edward Lister says the effort that went into meeting the assessors’ demands was a huge distraction. He says:
“This new regime is too bland and too superficial to provide any meaningful insights. In attempting to cover just about every aspect of public life in the area the reports simply descend into generalities. Despite the huge effort in cost and time there is nothing here that provides any added value for our tax payers.
“The results that are important to us are those that tell us how well we are delivering our services. Anything else is expensive window dressing.
The Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA) comprises an area overview that looks at all local public services including councils, health, fire and police and organisational reports for individual organisations. The results are published here.
Wandsworth residents pay the lowest council tax bills in the country. In a 2008 survey of UK local authorities, 73% of residents said the council offered good value for money – the highest score in the country. The council also achieved the UK’s highest resident satisfaction rating for its services (75%).
Meanwhile in H&F, figures from the Annual Residents’ Survey 2008 show that compared to the 2006 survey, overall resident satisfaction is up 6%, to 59% – the biggest increase in the country, which puts in the council in the top 10 authorities for residents’ satisfaction.