Mark Wallace of the Taxpayers Alliance judges the new CAA ratings and its Oneplace website to have failed in holding Town Halls to account.
Great play has been made this week of the launch of the OnePlace website and the new Comprehensive Area Assessment. The CAA replaces the old star rating system for councils, and is supposedly going to make council and other local services including education and policing more accountable.
It is undeniable that the star system was just about useless. The vast majority of councils were able to boast about their 3 or 4 star scores, despite the dissatisfaction of their residents who were sick of soaring tax bills and crummy service quality.
There are two elements to achieve proper accountability: information and power. The CAAs and OnePlace sadly fail on both counts.
Whilst the reports cover more areas than before, the only information people actually get on the headline services is extremely limited. Each council will be given a red or green flag for each category. There is very little insight on offer into what the threshold is for your colour of flag, and no contrasts can be drawn from your green flag to another council’s green flag. As a binary system, it simply tells people whether their councils judged “good” or “ungood”, to use Orwell’s memorable terms.
This isn’t good enough. I want to know specifics, and most other people do, too. The star system fell down because so many councils were getting three stars that it became both devalued and uninformative. Crucially, there was no way to tell whether one council was at the top of the 3 star bracket and another at the bottom. The flags offer even less information than that.
There has been no progress on the second criterion, either. Even if the CAA system gave people detailed, useful and comparable information – which it doesn’t – there has been no change in the power that people hold to act on that information.
By and large, people know whether their council treats them well or with disdain. They know whether they get enough bin collections, or whether the parking department are draconian busybodies. On the expanded remit of these assessments, they also broadly know whether their local police are responsive to real crime or obsessed with box ticking.
What they want is the power to set things right where they are wrong. They want more control over local council functions, with more pro-active councillors. They want to be able to sack useless Police Authority members and elect new ones more in touch with reality. They want to be able to send their child to whatever kind of school they think appropriate, rather than whatever the state dictates they should put up with.
That real revolution, which would mean genuine accountability and meaningful improvements for people, is yet to come. Comprehensive Area Assessments leave us where we were before – ignored.