Less than half of local authorities believe that a government
inspection of their services has resulted in improvements.
The finding comes in a survey from the Local Government
Association carried out in autumn 2000. It asked all local
authorities in England and Wales about their experiences of
inspections by the Social Services Inspectorate, Ofsted, the Best
Value inspection service and the Housing Inspectorate. A mixed
response from over half the councils led to the conclusion that
although inspections are vital, they do not always deliver the
It was found that 45 per cent of the councils which responded
believe inspections have helped them to improve services.
The survey was part of a programme of work by the LGA, the NHS
Confederation, the Improvement and Development Agency and Institute
of Public Policy Research to examine whether the current inspection
regime is effective in raising standards.
Main conclusions from this work include that the focus of
inspections may need to be adjusted to strike the right balance
between past performance and capacity for improvement. The
perception and legitimacy of inspections also need to be
In general, local authorities responding to the survey
recognised the value of inspection, seeing them as a challenging
process. Almost three-quarters agreed that inspection was a
catalyst for improvement and enhances accountability.
But, only 27 per cent thought that inspections led to
innovation. Less than half felt that inspections identified and
shared best practice, or that inspections helped local authorities
to become learning organisations. This is despite 96 per cent of
respondents acknowledging the huge amount of dedicated time and
resources are taken up by preparing for, and taking part in, an
Given this, there needs to be more clarity about the purpose of
inspection, says the report. “We need a shared vision of inspection
– among the inspectorates and the inspected – which focuses on how
it can help authorities to improve,” it says.
This will require an emphasis on practical ways to encourage
better outcomes “rather than devoting more resources to measurement
A common criticism from councils was the failure to ensure
effective co-ordination between inspection regimes – only one in 10
felt that there was effective co-ordination between inspection
regimes or that the different regimes help initiatives for
Denise Platt, SSI chief inspector, said: “I make no excuse for
the fact that external scrutiny can be a challenging process, after
all, the role of the inspection team is to make sure that the
services provided meet the agreed standards.
“However, it is important to remember that the SSI is also there
to support councils in their efforts to improve and furthermore,
that we have a key role in identifying and promoting good practice,
that should not be ignored.”