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CIPFA Local Government Trends


December 2002
Introduction

There is a general and healthy scepticism of the ability of a statistical indicator to adequately report the time, events or activities it is intended by some to portray. However, providing the ratio is sensibly defined, the weight of evidence, which derives from a consistent trend, is often irrefutable. 'Local Government Trends' sets out to provide a set of measures which trace locally provided services over time, and thereby add a dimension to the simple comparisons which are made against annual 'league tables'. Some of these trends might be useful barometers – for instance if the number of planning applications in Inner London is rising over time, is this a forward indicator of a revival in the local economy? Conversely, does the increase in number of applications for number of development control staff represent increased efficiency or is it simply a measure of the capacity of local government to absorb the increased throughput?

This is the third time for a number of years that the Institute has summarised the trends in service activities of local authorities. It has been prompted by the appetite for performance measures generated by the ‘Best Value’ debate. This volume does not necessarily include the best indicators – only the statistical ratios which are conveniently to hand. However the volume sets out a useful compendium of the main trends of the major services and shows how widely the distinctions are spread for individual classes of authority. It also reveals some of the hazards of adopting specific points in those distinctions as targets to which others might aspire. Occasionally the average (based on a properly weighted mean) can exceed the upper quartile point on a simple distinction of the same indicator, as it did on the cost per head of population for Development Control in London in the mid 1990’s. Even so, whilst it is evident that some caution is needed before reaching hasty conclusions, this compendium of summary statistics provides a useful overview of overall local government activity. In time it may be possible to discern some views on whether the trends portray 'improvement'.


December 2002

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