Is Hackney safer than Tower Hamlets? Will your children be better educated in Lewisham or Croydon? Which borough is the most environmentally friendly?
Answers to these questions and more can be found at a new government website, ‘Oneplace‘, designed to make public services more accountable to the taxpayer.
The site brings together information and assessments from six independent inspectorates responsible for monitoring quality of life in different areas in England: the Care Quality Commission, Ofsted, the Audit Commission and Her Majesty’s Inspectorates of Constabulary, Prisons and Probation.
The site rates the performance of local councils, the police, hospitals and schools and measures them against other boroughs using a feature called ‘comparison groups’.
When results from Hackney are compared to the group of ‘All English Councils’, the borough comes in the worst 5% for recorded robbery; yet when the same results are compared with others in Hackney’s ‘Crime and Disorder family group’, it is deemed ‘average’.
The website prevents users from drawing direct comparisons between individual boroughs – a measure which, it says, will ensure each borough’s results can be seen in context.
However, a brief look through the borough performance indicators does reveal where public services are improving and where they are deteriorating in east London.
Conflict of interests
Labour-led councils in east London have responded positively to the scheme, which is formally known as Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA). A council spokesperson from Hackney described it as “a useful way for people to get an overview of an area”. Tower Hamlets Council Leader Lutfur Rahman also welcomed the findings, but said there was “no room for complacency” when it came to meeting local priorities.
In the meantime, the Conservatives have already drawn up plans to abandon the scheme if they come to power.
The Conservative councils of Wandsworth, and Hammersmith & Fulham have already pulled out of the scheme, citing the high costs involved. As of last night, Conservative-led Croydon had yet to comment. Opposition councillors in other boroughs said they remained “highly suspicious” of the new regime.
Liberal Democrat Councillor Andrew Milton said he was particularly concerned about the CAA’s last-minute decision not to openly condemn Lewisham’s notorious housing issues. As part of its scoring system, ‘Oneplace’ uses green flags to promote successful local initiatives, and red flags to highlight areas where services are consistently failing to deliver.
Yet whilst the CAA gave Lewisham a red flag for housing in an earlier draft of its assessment, the caution was not included at the time of the website launch, giving the councillor reason to believe the council had interfered.
Today the CAA denied that Lewisham had ever had a red flag for housing. Lewisham Council described the site as “an independent judgment of how public agencies work together locally to improve life in their area”.
The spokesperson continued: “This is the first time that it has been carried out and inevitably some people will focus on its shortcomings. However, Lewisham Council is fully engaged with the process so that we can improve service outcomes.”
Green flags were awarded to boroughs along the East London Line for community engagement and empowerment of local people (Lewisham), improving infant mortality rates (Hackney), engaging and empowering local people (Tower Hamlets) and economic partnerships for future prosperity (Croydon).