The UK public inspection regime – increasing the ‘resource intensity of society’

 From Vanguard Consulting latest newsletter

Will CAA be the Achilles heel?

We are now at the dawn of CAA, the new inspection regime. The Audit Commission behaves like the worst of managers – change things with such frequency that you never get found out. Best Value, Star Ratings, CPA and all the other associated regulations have not delivered, but the Audit Commission narrative is each did its job and was needed for the presenting circumstances; all rationalisation.
The Audit Commission announces CAA with a plethora of meaningless blather. ‘Partnership working’ ‘sharp learning curve’ ‘flexible’ ‘not a one-size-fits-all’ and councils should be ‘more resourceful, innovative and determined’ in a world where ‘less will have to be more’.

When I talk to people at the sharp end, their ‘sharp learning curve’ has been how little confidence they have that anyone really knows what they are doing. They still feel the pain of the overly-bureaucratic CPA regime and as CAA arrives they doubt that ‘light touch’ will mean anything, that anyone can be confident about what ‘risk-triggered’ inspection means, they worry about being held to account for services for which they have no responsibility, they worry about the (still too many) various inspectorates agreeing on what to inspect and what to mandate them to do, and they fear that CAA will mean more inspection, not less.

Many of these people have been engaged in the ‘consultation’ process. Imagine the scene. You are sitting in a room with people from the Audit Commission trying to work out what CAA will mean in practice. Everyone has ideas/issues/thoughts and so on, and the Audit Commission people join in, for they too are in the dark. But as things go along you start to realise that even though the consultation exercise did not come to sound conclusions, the people from the Audit Commission will be making their own decisions about how to inspect. Is that the way to do it? We’ll take the ideas we liked best?

And while all this is going on we get a report of the ‘trials’ of CCA in 10 local authorities, which concluded it was too early to say if inspection burdens will be reduced. So, we learn nothing from the trials but we go ahead anyway.

CAA has stumbled big-time into Deming’s trap: operational definitions. Will it be the Audit Commission’s Achilles heel? I hope so, for all our sakes.





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