999 response times to be made public

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The Independent Online
Performance indicators of police, local authorities and the fire brigade are to be published for the first time in the largest survey of public services ever carried out. The indicators will include the speed of response by police to 999 calls andthe rate of crime detection. The publication of bar charts for the council, police and fire services, in England and Wales, are bound to cause controversy and lead to widespread complaints from the groups involved, particularly if they are considered the "worst" in the country. As with the current school league tables, the services will argue that the results do not take into account local factors or political priorities.

A survey of 1,600 people, which was carried out to help decide what issues the public are most concerned about, found that crime and response times to emergencies were by far the highest priorities. These subjects took the first seven places in a top 20 list of public interests. The care of elderly, and people with disabilities in the community, were also priority subjects.

The top 20 indicators will form the core of the report, but the report's author, the Audit Commission, the independent spending watchdog, will also highlight areas where there is a marked difference in performance.

Services that will be covered in the report include benefits payments, housing, homeless, collecting council tax, recycling, libraries, and adult social services.

The top 10 list of topics were the speed of answering police 999 calls, the speed of response by police to emergencies, the amount of violent crime, the rate of crime detection, the number of burglaries, the speed of response by the fire brigade, the total amount of crime, details of what councils spend your money on, councils' development plans for the area, and helping the elderly to live at home. Other subjects include the amount of respite care provided, overcrowding at schools, and how well the council handles complaints.

Statistics for the year ending March 1994 have been collated by local councils, police and fire authorities. There will be a huge range of indicators published, with district councils reporting about 40, London borough and Metropolitan council about 60, counties about 40 and the police authorities about 10.

Council services are due to be published on 30 March, and the police and fire services on 12 April.

Although the Audit Commission has stressed they are publishing bar charts, rather than league tables, the information will inevitably be used to compare one local authority or police force with another.

Critics have argued that this could lead to unfair and misleading comparisons. There is also concern that authorities will use scarce resources to improve their position in the tables rather than targeting areas of most need.

Andrew Foster, controller of the Audit Commission, predicted the performance indicators could lead to significant changes in the way council and the police operate.

"Regularly when we bring out a study we find that the bottom third could show improvements," Mr Foster said.