A powerful tool for… Well not a lot really
Sometimes it is hard to follow a post before but something has been bothering me all week and it has not been until now that I have had the chance to get it out.
Basically the website is designed to give anyone as much information about the public services in their local area; and by information I mean the result of local inspections carried out by the audit commission and the other bodies who carry out their role elsewhere in the public sector (namely the Care Quality Commission, HM Inspectorates of Constabulary, Prisons and Probation and Ofsted).
Now, I must say I have no problem with putting the information on-line and making it searchable. After all, what is the point of doing all of these endless inspections if the information isn’t easily accessible.
However, I do have two problems with this site. Firstly, the justification for the site is weak. Instead of saying ‘we’re putting this information on-line because it’s an easy way to communicate a lot of data to the people who pay for it (the taxpayer that is!). Instead the Audit Commission blanket the airwaves telling us that this website will be:
A powerful tool for change
Quite simply that is garbage of the highest order. To be a powerful driver for change one of two things needs to happen:
1. People read the figures and challenge their local service providers to meet those targets or
2. People move house or provider causing the laws of supply and demand to drive better performance by the authority.
Do the Audit Commission really believe that people will be sifting through the national indicators on-line and rising up to challenge their local authorities poor performance on National Indicator 4 or upping sticks and moving to the London Borough of Hillingdon because of their better performance in engaging their community around Anti-Social Behaviour? Of course not.
If a decade of school league tables has proven anything it is this: Whilst no-one likes bad schools or poorly performing hospitals the publishing of all this data does not lead to radical improvements in the school or hospital simply because of the presence of the data in the public realm. In fact the publication of the data seems to have limited effect. Lib Dem run Liverpool was the worst performing council in 2008 but the whole council was re-elected two months after the Audit Commission had labeled them failing, and as far as I know there isn’t a great exodus under way from the city of culture.
Performance data can and does lead to better performance; you can target resources more efficiently and effectively and identify underlying problems that might not be apparent. And the knowledge that a local hospital is letting too many people die can lead to a public outcry aided by the press. However, let us not kid ourselves that putting the vast majority of this information in the public realm will make even the slightest difference.
It is NOT a powerful driver of change.
And it is especially not a powerful driver for change when the means of comparing between different councils is warped. Camden (it’s early in the alphabet rather than having any significance to me) received two green flags (for good performance). One was for ‘improving the quality of life for older people’, something which is easy to compare between authorities but the other was for ‘Tackling crime in Camden’. How exactly is any other authority going to get a green flag for tackling crime in Camden??? And if the circumstances around crime in Camden are so specific to Camden (possible) then is there any point in trying to compare them with other authorities on a funky new website?
And finally, will knowing that my local area doesn’t have a green flag for tackling crime in ?£$?%^&&* mean I should challenge my authority or even up sticks and move to Camden… No, I thought not.
A nice website for sure but a powerful driver for change this is not.