Quality of Best Value inspections under fire

The Best Value inspection regime needs its own Best Value
review, according to the chief executive of a local authority.

In a speech last week at a Local Government Association
conference, Phil Watson, chief executive of Blackburn with Darwen
Council, criticised the quality of inspections and inspectors
involved in the government’s performance assessment framework for

“What is needed is a really hard-nosed, hard-edged Best Value
review of all the inspection regimes,” he said.

Watson called for action to overcome duplication in the work of
the various inspectorates – such as those in social services,
education, housing, NHS and the Audit Commission. He also
highlighted capacity problems and lack of expertise and claimed the
value of inspections was not commensurate with the effort put

Those staff at the centre of local government who could improve
public services were “deflected from service delivery” by being
overloaded with too many reviews and plans, he said, while the
increase in the numbers of inspections had led to a decline in the
standards of inspectors.

“The Best Value inspectors need to be seriously challenged,” he
told the conference. There needed to be fewer inspection regimes,
fewer inspections and recognition that not all authorities are the
same and do not perform to the same standard.

Authorities performing well should be subject to fewer
inspections, while “those not performing well need fewer
inspections, but more support,” he added.

In response to Watson’s criticisms, junior local government
minister Alan Whitehead told Community Care that a
reduction in the number of inspections and performance indicators
was needed, but warned against any “regressive” Best Value analysis
of the regime itself.

“The next step is to ensure that the process of self-review
within the inspectorates is properly structured, so that it is
enhancing the Best Value regime É and at the same time working
within the theme,” said Whitehead. “It is about making sure service
delivery is a creative process, rather than bashing people on the
head so that they do it.”

Leading public expenditure economist and ex-civil servant Sir
Ian Byatt also called on the government to publish annual reports
on the Best Value inspectorates, covering costs and the benefits

Regime set to take more risk-based approach

Best Value will take a more risk-based approach to inspection,
said junior local government minister Alan Whitehead, in response
to criticism that the various inspectorates have taken a “one size
fits all” approach during the first year of the regime.

“It is a criticism that has relevance in some areas,” Whitehead
admitted to delegates.

But he said he hoped work by the Best Value Inspectorate Forum
(BVI) for England would help target inspection on services where
the risks involved were the greatest, as well as develop common
inspection methodologies for the different inspectorates.

He added that the government was “looking to reduce” the number
of reviews and plans councils had to undergo, and the DoH was
working on “rationalising” social care inspection.

Meanwhile, the LGA and the BVI Forum launched a joint statement
on better inspection at the conference, with the aim of setting out
a “shared view É on the principles that should guide the
future development of Best Value inspection” in England.

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