Today Eric Pickles wrote to council leaders across the UK to announce an end to Comprehensive Area Assessments (CAAs). This is great news and something that we advocated in our book How to cut public spending. The cost of meeting these top-down targets is substantial: many councillors I have spoken to are overjoyed that these ludicrous targets are coming to end, meaning council staff can get on with real work.
Harry Phibbs, a councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham, has written today that Leicestershire councils alone had 90 full time staff collecting and processing more than 3,000 individual data items for central government at a cost of £3.7m a year. They also faced 83 different inspections annually.
This is clearly ludicrous. There are over 60 million regulators in this country that just need information to do the job; that's why transparency is so important. Additionally, a purported localist agenda has to be matched with actions. Today's letters sent by the Secretary of State are indeed a good start but must be exactly that - a start.
A drive to give councils genuine freedom to make decisions relevant to their communities - including fiscal decentralisation - would remove the costly Whitehall bureaucracy inspecting local government at a stroke. After all, the National Audit Office estimated the cost of this to be £2 billion in 2006. More for less? It needn't be just a catchphrase.