What is CPA?
Local authorities, like Lambeth, that are designated as best value authorities have a statutory duty to put in place arrangements to secure continuous improvement in their functions having regard to a combination of economy, efficiency and effectiveness. Best value authorities include all single tier and county councils. Under statute the Commission has an inspection role to assess how well best value authorities are fulfilling their general duty of continuous improvement.
The Commission carries out inspections of councils or specific functions or services of councils. It does so within a broader audit and inspection framework for local government which includes its own inspection activities, the work of auditors appointed by the Commission, and the work of other statutory inspectorates.
CPA was introduced in 2002 by the Commission as a way of drawing together the most significant elements of this wider audit and inspection framework to form an overall view of the performance of councils and their arrangements for improving their services to the public.
The Commission also has a duty to categorise best value authorities according to their relative performance. CPA is the tool that the Commission uses to fulfil this duty. It is an effective tool for categorising councils because it assesses performance from various perspectives in a consistent and comparable way.
CPA has had, and continues to have, a significant impact on local government. MORI surveys of local government and responses to the Commission’s previous consultations have consistently indicated that CPA is seen as very influential and as an important driver for improvement. CPA has had this impact by:
- reporting publicly, in a straightforward way, how well each local authority is performing;
- helping councils to focus on their own improvement and targeting support for improvement where it is needed (including more focused audit and inspection);
- providing an independent challenge to local authorities that has contributed to improvement in public services; and
- reducing the burden of inspection and regulation.
What is the ‘harder test’?
CPA – The Harder Test is a tougher test for councils. It builds on the previous framework, but features a much greater emphasis on service users and value for money, and much less on inspection of services.
The assessment will:
- help councils maintain momentum and focus in delivering improvement priorities;
- signal whether, and where, further support and/or improvement work is required;
- and inform annual audit and inspection programmes to ensure our work is targeted on the right areas.
The detailed methodologies and key lines of enquiry (KLOE) are available from the audit commission website. However, the key elements of CPA – The Harder Test are:
These will be carried out for each council by the Audit Commission every three years. They focus on a council’s community leadership role and will chart a council’s achievements by looking at five areas:
● sustainable communities and transport;
● safer and stronger communities;
● healthier communities;
● older people; and
● children and young people.
Joint Area Reviews (JARs) led by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) are planned to be carried out at the same time as a corporate assessment. These reviews focus on how local services and partnerships contribute to improving outcomes for children and young people. Some of their findings will feed directly into the achievement section within the overall corporate assessment.
Use of resources
This is an annual assessment that looks at how well a council manages its money. There is now an explicit ‘value for money’ judgement within this. This is carried out by auditors starting from councils’ own self assessments.
The Commission will assess housing, environment and cultural services using a mixture of performance indicators and inspection. Over the next three years, the proportion of service assessments based on inspections will decline.
Other inspectorates will provide scores for the other annual service assessments: adult social care – Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI); children’s services – Ofsted and CSCI; and benefits – Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI).
Direction of travel assessment
Alongside the overall category rating for each council will be a direction of travel judgement. Together they will show not just what CPA category a council has achieved, but also how well it is improving.
The direction of travel assessment describes the progress the council is making towards achieving improvement. This is updated annually based on information gathered over the past year, such as audit and inspection findings and performance indicators. It provides information to the public about how well their council is complying with its duty to make arrangements to secure continuous improvement.
The direction of travel assessment will include a judgement label. The labels are:
- Improving strongly
- Improving well
- Improving adequately
- Not improving adequately
- Not improving
The overall category names have changed to mark the new framework from the old, to 4 stars, 3 stars, 2 stars, 1 star and 0 stars, with 4 being the highest. This means that the excellent, good, fair, weak and poor names will no longer be used in respect of single tier and county councils.