IT bosses criticise Best Value reports

Local government IT bosses have voiced their concern at what they see as unfairness in the Audit Commission's IT Best Value...

Local government IT bosses have voiced their concern at what they see as unfairness in the Audit Commission's IT Best Value inspections.

Key criticism has revolved around a perceived lack of consistency in the Best Value reports. Some IT directors at inspected councils have called for a less bureaucratic outside company to take over the inspection reports, while the Society of IT Management (Socitm) has described the largely disappointing reports as "misleading".

Tom Fairhurst, deputy chief executive of Castle Morpeth Borough Council, spoke out after his council received one of the worst reports.

"We would definitely query the consistency of the Best Value inspection reports," he said. "Our report closely compares to Crawley borough council, but in the final marking we were described as a 'poor' service that is 'unlikely to improve', and they were a 'good service' that will 'probably improve'.

"There is not a lot between Castle Morpeth and Crawley, but we get rated [as] lousy, while they are considered fine."

David Ghosh, business IT support manager at Crawley borough council, declined to compare his council's inspection report with that of Castle Morpeth but agreed that some of the findings were confusing.

He explained: "I thought the inspectors did a thorough job and they were particularly impressed by the changes we have made in our management. There were, however, areas where we thought we would have been marked better."

The Audit Commission said it was disappointed to hear that some local councils had complained.

"We try hard to avoid inconsistency," a spokesman explained. "Inevitably, we react to local circumstances and individual council reviews always differ in certain respects, so it is difficult for us or anyone else to compare different reports."

Mike Lay, ICT head at Swindon council - which received a rating of 'fair' for its services - believes his council's particular circumstances were not taken into consideration when its report was done.

"We asked inspectors to bear in mind that our council came into being in 1997 when it was hived off from Wiltshire County Council," he said. "In 1999 we also had to deal with millennium issues and I don't think that out relative inexperience was taken into consideration during the process."

Read more on IT strategy