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Home » Research Projects » Comparing for Improvement: The Development and Impact of Public Services Audit and Inspection in UK Local Government

One size fits all?

What can be learned from the divergence in performance testing regimes between the different countries in Britain?

Education, health, the criminal justice system and local government in the UK have all been the focus of the quest for public service improvement over the last decade. Each has gained quantum increases in public spending, but has also been exposed to massive and unprecedented levels of scrutiny in the form of an explosion in performance testing regimes and internal and external audits.

We know less about the impact and benefits of such inspection than about its cost. The six main inspectorates in these domains cost about £600m a year to run, without taking account of compliance costs and other factors, such as distraction of frontline staff from their work, and overlap and under-lap between different inspectors. Accordingly, we need to know more about the possible effects of such inspection on public service performance.

This study will look at how the different forms of performance improvement and external audit and inspection of local government operate in England, Scotland and Wales. It will examine what improvements are achieved and sustained by inspection, what is the relation between performance and the volume of inspection, and the relative advantages of each inspection regime.

What the research means to policy-makers and the wider community

Research Methods

The study will:

Project Outputs and Related Webpages

Project Poster 2009

Martin, S.J., Downe, J.D., Grace, C.L. and Nutley, S.N. (2010) ‘Evaluating Organizational Effectiveness: The Utilization and Validity of Whole Authority Assessments‘, Evaluation 16: 31-42

Forthcoming. Andrews, R. and Martin, S.J. (2010) ‘Regional variations in public service outcomes: the impact of policy divergence in England, Scotland and Wales’, Regional Studies, 44.

Martin, S.J and Webb, A. (2009) ‘‘Citizen-centred’ public services: contestability without consumer-driven competition‘, Public Money & Management, 29: 2, pp. 123-130.

April 2008: ‘Best Value Audits in Scotland: Winning Without Scoring’, Public Money & Management Volume 28, Number 2, April 2008 , (pp. 77-84)

Programme Discussion Paper 0705 (November 2007): Comparing For Improvement: Local Government Performance Regimes in England, Scotland and Wales.

May 2007: ‘Decisive Moment: The Independent Review of the Best Value Audit Process’, Final Report to the Accounts Commission and Audit Scotland.

April 2007: ‘Has devolution improved public services?’ Public Money & Management 27(2), (pp.149-156).

Research Team

Steve Martin

Steve Martin

Steve Martin is Professor of Public Policy and Management at the University of Cardiff and Director of the University of Cardiff Centre for Local and Regional Government Research. He has worked extensively in the field of public service improvement.

Email: martinsj@cardiff.ac.uk

Sandra Nutley

Sandra Nutley

Sandra Nutley is Professor of Public Management at the University of Edinburgh, and Director of the Research Unit for Research Utilisation (RURU), which was established in 2001 with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

Email: Sandra.Nutley@ed.ac.uk

James Downe

James Downe

James Downe is Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Local and Regional Government Research at the Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University. Research interests include the meta-evaluation of the local government modernisation agenda.

Email: Downej@cardiff.ac.uk

Clive Grace

Clive Grace

Clive Grace is currently the Chair of the Better Regulation Authority. He is also General Editor of the Encyclopaedia of Local Government, Precedent and Procedures (Sweet and Maxwell, London).

Email: clivegrace@hotmail.com