Fewer than half of local authorities believe that government
inspections of their services have resulted in improvements.
This disquieting finding comes in a study from the Local
Government Association published last week. Local authorities also
cast doubt on the effectiveness of inspections in producing
innovation and spreading best practice.
The survey, carried out in autumn 2000, 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.
The survey was part of a programme to examine whether the
inspection regime was effective in raising standards carried out by
the LGA, the NHS Confederation, the Improvement and Development
Agency and Institute for Public Policy Research.
The main conclusion was 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 needed to be improved.
In general, local authorities responding to the survey
recognised the value of inspection, seeing it as a challenging
Almost three-quarters agreed that inspections could be a
catalyst for improvement and enhanced accountability, even though
only 45 per cent felt that concrete improvements had been achieved.
But only 27 per cent thought that inspections currently led to
Fewer than half felt that inspections identified and shared best
practice or that inspections helped councils to become learning
organisations. This is despite 96 per cent of respondents
acknowledging the time and resources spent on inspections.
The report says that there needs to be more clarity about the
purpose of inspection “We need a shared vision of inspection by
inspectorates and the inspected, which focuses on how to help
authorities to improve.”
This will require an emphasis on ways to encourage better
outcomes rather than devoting more resources to measurement and
enforcement. Councils also criticised the lack of co-ordination
between inspection regimes.
Social Services Inspectorate chief inspector Denise Platt said:
“I make no excuse for the fact that external scrutiny can be a
“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
An Inspector Calls: A Survey of Local Authorities on the
Impact of Inspection from the IDeA on 020 7296 6600.