Some data on children’s homes this week includes figures on the “spend on residential care per child per week.” The figure for Bath and North East Somerset is £66,700. Remember that is the figure per week per child. So the annual cost is £3.5 million to keep each child in a children’s home.Seems a bit high?

If I was a councillor in Bath and North East Somerset I would ask some questions about that. Perhaps the figure is wrong, or out of date. But I would ask the question. As I would if I was a councillor in Bournemouth (£26,400 per child per week) or Newham (£22,700) or Southampton (£20,100) or Peterborough (£17,300).

Councils are required to provide a lot of data. The list is here.

It is a much shorter list than under the Labour Government and it should be shorter still – much of it still strikes me as obscure or irrelevant. There are other measures which can cause harm by distorting performance. It can mean a retreat into box ticking.

Let us take the efforts of the Electoral Commission to ensure that all is well with the Electoral Services Department at Tower Hamlets Council. Gary Streeter told Parliament in 2012:

The Commission monitors the performance of electoral registration officers (EROs) in Great Britain, including their plans for preventing and detecting electoral malpractice. The most recent report of performance against the standards set by the Commission found that the ERO for Tower Hamlets exceeded this standard in 2010.

Enough said.

There will be plenty of measures of your local council’s performance that you don’t need statistics for.

You will notice, for example, if your dustbins are emptied weekly or fortnightly.

You will also have noticed how much Council Tax you pay. But you will be able to make a more informed judgement by comparing the Band D Council Tax level where you live to elsewhere.

Education is another crucial measure. The School Performance Table at the Department of Education allows you to search for every school in England. That will tell you not just the results for that school but how that compares with the rest of the local authority and how the local authority compares to the rest of the country. For primary schools the key measure is the percentage achieving Level 4 or above in reading, writing and maths. For secondary schools it’s the percentage achieving five or more A*-C GCSEs including English and maths.

Then we have the planning application process. How long does it take to make a decision? Have a look at Table P131. In England the average for major developments is that 74 per cent of decisions are made within 13 weeks. For minor developments it is 70 per cent of decisions within eight weeks. In Bromsgrove it is 8 per cent and 11 per cent respectively. In Christchurch it is nil and 21 per cent. Why does it to take them so much longer to make a decision?

How many children in care are there in your area compared to elsewhere? These Local Authority tables will tell you. (LAA1 gives the figure for children in care while LAA3 details how many are in children’s homes rather than with foster carers.)

This link compares the “outcomes” for those children in different areas. Also check the adoption scorecards – such as how long the process takes.

What about the old? The Adult Social Care Survey is worth considering.

If I was a councillor in Hounslow I would be asking some questions. Those provided with care by their council were asked how satisfied they were with it. In England the average number of those “quite dissatisfied” was 2.1 per cent, those “very dissatisfied” 0.7 per cent and those “extremely dissatisfied” was 1.1 per cent. In Hounslow the figures are 4.9 per cent, 1.7 per cent and 3.7 per cent. In Lambeth its 3.8 per cent, 0.8 per cent and 3.5 per cent. In Newham its 4.1 per cent, 1.5 per cent and 3.1 per cent. In Nottingham its 2.2 per cent, 1.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent. I’m afraid in Westminster it was 2.6 per cent, 1 per cent and 3.1 per cent.

The Troubled Families programme is an important success story for the Government (and thus of little interest to the media).  But it relies on local authorities to deliver it – they have a financial incentive to do so. How many families have been “turned round” in your area? The stats are here.

How many empty council homes are there are your area? Many might well be derelict eyesores serving as a magnate to crime and vandalism. Table 615 offers the details. If I was a councillor in Hackney I would like an explanation as to why – at 877 – it is the highest in London and also why it has increased in recent years while nationally there has been a fall.

Those who are concerned about the need for more new homes might like to look at Table 123 to see what is being achieved in their own area.

Another concern might be how many roads are in poor condition compared to elsewhere.

This data should be used in the right way. It doesn’t represent a verdict (the electorate provide that). But it should offer a challenge to those councils whose figures are bad. What is the explanation? If it is accepted that the performance is below standard what is being done to sort it out? Councillors (and journalists, bloggers, engagement stakeholders, even, er, residents) should not be too deferential towards the data – but nor should they be too deferential to the answer the bureaucrats offer. This pursuit of truth is the way to provide good quality services that represent value for money.

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