Are Best Value inspectors and auditors barking up the wrong tree?

Conflicting views on the role of Best Value
auditors and inspectors emerged at a Local Government Association
conference last week.

Professor Steve Martin, director of Cardiff
University’s local and regional government research unit, told
delegates: “It’s interesting that inspectors and auditors are
billing themselves as helping you to improve,” adding that the
question was whether they should be “guard dogs” or “guide

Guard dogs would be independent, transparent
and accountable while using “star rating” systems and “naming and
shaming” mechanisms, then publishing their reports to media
fanfares and calls for intervention, suggested Martin.

But guide dogs were more likely to position
themselves as a “critical friend” offering to diagnose problems,
providing advice and support, and breaking bad news away from the
media spotlight, while trying to build capacity to improve.

But education watchdog Ofsted’s director of
inspections David Taylor proposed a half-way house. Continuing the
canine analogy, Taylor claimed “inspectors are a lot more like
collies” – acting as sheepdogs herding and directing the sheep.

Their role might be more like that of a
watchdog, being a “protector and practical servant”, he added.

LGA head of strategy Matthew Warburton
challenged the Audit Commission’s assertion that in the past it had
been a “critical friend”, but now had to be more than that. The
commission – which audits and inspects councils’ Best Value plans –
has to be an “independent judge”, he said, although there were
difficulties in being both a friend and a judge.

– The Audit Commission was criticised over
delays in publishing Best Value reports.

Replying to a question, the Audit Commission’s
acting head of service development for the Best Value inspection
service, Olwen Pritchard-Jones, admitted four months was too long
for councils to wait for a final report after the inspection
process had been completed.

“We are publishing 50 reports a month until
the backlog is cleared,” she added.

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