LETTER : Poor snapshot of council performance

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The Independent Online
From Cllr Sir Jeremy Beecham

Sir: It was kind of David Walker to instruct people how to vote in the local elections ("Local politics: who gives an X?, 4 May). But it was unfortunate that the advice was based upon raw Audit Commission performance indicators, used even more crudely than the Government has contrived to employ.

It is no service to the promotion of local democracy to select six indicators from among the many published, in themselves only a dated and partial snapshot of a proportion of council services, and then pronounce upon "best and worst" councils. Some of the indicators are far from robust measures of performance and almost none can be understood without reference to the local context.

Performance indicators have their uses in informing public opinion and promoting discussion amongst decision-makers at local level. Oversimplification of the kind promoted by Mr Walker, however, devalues the coinage of political debate.

Unfortunately, the Press itself has largely turned its back on serious supporting of local government at local level. But judicious probing and objective reporting of performance indicators, followed by local councils' responses, could do something to inform the local electorate. Happily, local voting is not as entirely motivated by the national political scene as David Walker suggests. There is a significant local element in election results. Greater freedom for local government, especially the end of universal capping, would increase this because greater choice would be available between programmes and parties.

Yours faithfully,

JEREMY BEECHAM

Chairman, Association of

Metropolitan Authorities

London, SW1

4 May

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