Councils react to league tables

With the release of the recent Comprehensive Performance Assessment league
tables, Paul Nelson looks at the impact the results will have on the country’s
high and low ranking local authorities

Many local government HR teams are reviewing their policies and practices as
councils consider how to respond to the sector’s first performance league

The Comprehensive Performance Assessments (CPA), carried out by the Audit
Com- mission, are designed to help authorities improve services by highlighting
poor performance. The 150-county, metropolitan, unitary and London councils
have been judged – on a one to five scale – in 10 different areas, including
quality of services, use of resources and ability to improve.

Based on the scores they have then been divided in to five categories;
excellent, good, fair, weak and poor.

District councils will be audited later this year.

The 22 authorities rated excellent will now be allowed to get on with their
work without any inspection for three years, while the 54 good councils will
receive far less auditing than in the past.

Poor and weak authorities – 22 and 13 respectively – will be targeted with
an audit programme that could involve special management teams being brought in
from other councils, and other agencies drafted in as a last resort.

The new performance regime represents a radical approach to improving local
government services and has had a mixed reaction from the sector, which is
suffering crippling skills shortages and recruitment and retention problems.

But the new league tables could act as the trigger for change.

Terry McDougall, assistant chief executive (HR) at ‘poor’ Hackney Council,
told Personnel Today that her council is to implement a HR database, measure
the authority’s workforce diversity and introduce a new payroll system as a
direct result of CPA.

She feels the process is of more benefit to under-performing councils than
those succeeding as it will help implement a change programme and focus
resources on areas that need it.

McDougall said: "It [CPA] lays out the stalls. Once a council has
failed, the only way it can go is up. While excellent authorities can only go
down. I would not want to be at Camden [an excellent authority] even if my
salary was doubled. It is much harder to maintain high standards than

Local government HR body Socpo is broadly supportive of CPA providing it is
implemented and managed correctly.

Socpo president Francesca Okosi believes performance tables can be
beneficial as long as they are used as a positive force for change and not as a
naming and shaming process.

"I am determined to see it as a positive – although I was cynical about
it in the beginning," she said.

"No authority is poor; if CPA is seen as a snap shot at a point in time
and viewed as an authority’s starting point then it could work. There is life
after being viewed as a poor or weak authority."

CPA provides a great opportunity for HR professionals to increase their
strategic influence, according to Socpo vice-president Mary Mallett.

"There is a lot in CPA for HR practitioners to get their teeth in to
and to drive service performance. The whole process is good for HR people who
want to get to the top table and make their voice heard, as it is a strong
indicator that people deliver services and an organisation’s capability to

She does fear that under-performing councils could suffer increased
recruitment and retention problems as a result of the rankings – especially in
the south of England.

"Individual councils with a negative ranking will find it hard to
attract and retain staff, and keeping morale up among existing staff will be
difficult when they have been told they deliver poor services," said

It is not just under-performing councils that could suffer increased retention
problems following the CPA ratings.

Peter Rogers, chief executive at Westminster Council – rated excellent – is
concerned that his authority will now have good staff poached by lower-rated
councils that need to improve services, as well as by the private sector.

"It is almost inevitable that our staff will be poached by private
sector firms and staff at top councils will have much better job prospects and
use this to move on to other authorities," he said.

"The stability of staff is what has achieved excellent status in the
first place, while bottom ranked councils will struggle to keep and recruit
staff because of the new stigma."

There are also concerns over the time and resources that councils have to
spend preparing for the new auditing process.

Jan Parkinson, strategic director of HR at Gateshead Metropolitan Borough
Council – also rated excellent – is relieved that as a top rating council, her
authority will be freed from inspection for the next three years.

"When they inspect they suck in a lot of resources. This allows us to
release capacity, time and energy and re-focus it into the delivery of services
and improving internal processes," she said.

Parkinson believes audits and inspections should be used to target
particular areas and services in need of improvement. She is concerned the
wide-ranging and prescriptive nature of the CPA adds bureaucracy and could
actually interfere with improvements.

Socpo’s Mallett, who is also strategic director of organisation and
development at top ranking Kent County Council, also has concerns over the
bureaucratic nature of CPA.

"It is amazing how much time is taken up by gathering the data,
meetings and programmes for inspections," she said. "Now we can just
get on with doing them instead of all the bureaucracy.

"They [the inspections] take people’s eyes off the ball as they spend
all their time working and worrying about it."

All HR professionals are in agreement that councils must share best practice
to improve the overall performance and image of the sector.

Socpo’s website will have a dedicated page on CPA where HR professionals can
discuss experiences and share knowledge and best practice.

CPA has been introduced despite the opposition of the unions.

Unison believes councils should be free of inspections and that the whole
CPA process is a waste of money.

It claims the estimated £1bn cost of the project would have been better
spent training frontline managers and staff and increasing pay to attract and retain
employees – only time will tell.

Walsall Council working towards improvements

Walsall Council is an example of how
the worst performing councils will have to respond if they fail to improve

The authority was forced to sack its entire management team,
including the head of personnel, in July 2002 as a result of having received
bad reports from Ofsted and the Department of Health.

The council recruited an interim chief executive and management
team, which must prove to local government minister Nick Raynsford that the
authority is improving its performance before a permanent management team can
be appointed.

Poor performing councils



Hackney (London)

Islington (London)


Lambeth (London)

North East Lincolnshire

North Tyneside





Waltham Forest

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