A step forward for local accountability

Today’s launch of the OnePlace local public services website increases democratic accountability. It brings together reports of local public service regulators.

Today’s launch of the OnePlace local public services website is a step forward for democratic accountability. OnePlace brings together the reports of all local public service regulators in an area, so citizens can enter their postcode and see at a glance how their police, fire services, or social services are performing.

Areas where things are done particularly well are marked by green flags, areas of concern with red ones. The information is presented neutrally, unspun by council press offices or sensation-seeking local media.

This is a move that all democrats should welcome.

Voters are often unsure who is responsible for the services they receive – and this, as much as skewed media coverage and low turnouts, damages the accountability of local politicians at elections.

Councils, however, have generally not welcomed the move. Even Camden, one of the best-rated areas, has criticised the inspection process (called CAA) which led to the results, and they are not alone; complaining about CAA has been a popular pastime at local government events over the past year.

Although no-one expects regulators to be popular with the regulated, some council complaints are fair. CAA is a new process, and needs a lot more development in some areas.

The promise of reduced bureaucracy has only partially been fulfilled.

What’s more, when you’re dealing on a daily basis with the enormous overlapping complexity of a city, it must be galling to see all your work condensed into a few pages of online text, written (as an explicit goal) for a reading age of 12.

OnePlace is still a good idea. We can all agree that it simplifies the real situation, and that running good council services is a fiendishly difficult business. However, we also need to give voters an understanding of their public services, without giving them a seminar on social care personalisation.

Responding to criticism from Conservative councillors, David Cameron has promised to abolish CAA and close down OnePlace if he comes to office. It’s to be hoped that if he does become Prime Minister, he takes a broader view and reconsiders.

Localism – a major plank of the Conservative platform – is strengthened not undermined by good, independent local information. OnePlace should be supported and extended, not abolished.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.