Inspection overhaul spells the end for star ratings and council targets

Social services star ratings, children’s joint area reviews and the comprehensive performance assessment for councils will be scrapped as part of the government’s “new vision for local government”.

Last week’s local government white paper proposes introducing a new performance system – an annual comprehensive area assessment – from 2009, under which councils will no longer be given a single rating as they are now, nor face timetabled inspections.

Instead, they will face an annual risk assessment, through which the Audit Commission and partner inspectorates will decide on the need for inspection or intervention.

This will be based on a radical cut in the number of national performance indicators – 200 instead of 1,200 – covering all services. The inspection reforms echo the calls of the Local Government Association, which has long argued that too many targets and indicators have stifled the ability of councils to respond to local need.

A spokesperson said: “This is a major shift forward for us. It frees up resources and time for councils to concentrate on what matters to people.”

Andrew Cozens, strategic adviser for children, adults and health services at the Improvement and Development Agency, also welcomed the move. But he said there would still be a strong regulatory framework in social care because of the continuing
standards regime in areas such as care homes, children’s homes and foster care.

Alongside performance against the national indicators, authorities will also be subject to annual “direction of travel” and “use of resources” judgements, as now.

The annual assessment will also be informed by authorities’ performance against some 35 national and local targets in local area agreements, the system by which councils and their partners are given funding freedoms in return for performance improvements.

Local authorities and named partners, including youth offending teams and primary care trusts, would have a duty to  co-operate in agreeing the LAA targets and “have regard” to them once they had been set.

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