16 December 2005 | Anusha Bradley
Half of all local authorities are only just meeting, or failing to achieve, the bare minimum in securing value for money, according to the latest report from the Audit Commission.
Published this week, Comprehensive Performance Assessment - the Harder Test, Scores and Analysis of Performance in Single Tier and County Councils 2005
, evaluated 150 councils against new, tougher criteria.
It awarded a score of one to four for quality and delivery of services in 13 categories, including, for the first time, assessing the ability of authorities to secure value for money. Each council was then given an overall rating out of four.
Only three authorities - the City of London, East Riding of Yorkshire and Wandsworth - achieved the top score for value for money.
County councils performed better in this category than unitary authorities. More than 70 per cent of them achieved above, or well above, the minimum requirements in delivering value for money, compared to 45 per cent of unitary authorities.
"Overall, how councils are using their resources is encouraging but not outstanding. How well a council manages its risks and has effective arrangements to ensure proper use of public funds, is the area where most consistently under-perform.
"Councils will need to improve performance in this area to achieve the top categories in the future," stated the report.
James Strachan, chair of the commission, said: "Council services must deliver good value for money. We are concerned that half of all councils are only achieving at or below the minimum acceptable level."
The value for money category was grouped alongside two others, financial reporting and financial management, under the heading 'use of resources'. The Audit Commission considered imposing a rule that councils had to achieve a score of at least three for value for money to get three points for the use of resources group.
"Had it been introduced, 13 fewer councils would have achieved a score of three for the wider use of resources assessment," the report found.
It will consider giving value for money more weighting in next year's assessment.