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.

3 Responses to “A step forward for local accountability”

  1. irene rukerebuka

    RT @leftfootfwd A step forward for local accountability: http://is.gd/5gZDD

  2. Peter

    Thank God, I’ve been waiting for someone to do exactly this for quite a while.

  3. Richard Pope

    Whilst the aims of the website are great, the implementation is, sadly, an embarrassment.

    For £220,000 we have a website that:

    – Has badly designed, confusing navigation
    – Is swallowed by the behemoth of Directgov
    – Has bad urls that google won’t be indexing in a hurry
    – Crashes under the weight of a few tens of thousands of users (they knew they were launching it on TV and radio but didn’t test the load)
    – Hides the raw data behind hard to digest waffle
    – Doesn’t use the unique identifiers for councils and organisations that were the at the heart of the PMs Smarter Government announcements
    – Not open sourced, so any council wanting to have a subset of this website on their own domain will no doubt have to pay the company the built it another £220,000 (as happened with the various police crime map websites)

    Any competent civic hacker could have put this website together (and not have it crash after a mere mention on the Today Programme) for 5% of the price it’s cost. Until the government starts hiring programers and designers directly, rather than paying a fortune for non-technical consultants and outsourced IT companies, this is going to keep on happening

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