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External inspection of local government: Driving improvement or drowning in detail?

Martin, Stephen James, Davis, Howard and Downe, James Daniel 2001. External inspection of local government: Driving improvement or drowning in detail? [Project Report]. York: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Available at:

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This paper is the result of the first phase of research that is funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. It draws on three main sources of evidence – a review of existing research on the impact of inspection regimes in the UK, interviews with senior policy makers in inspectorates and the Local Government Association, and our research on the impacts of the Best Value pilot programme. The overall aims of the research are to review the development of inspection procedures, their impact on local government, and their effectiveness in promoting change. It seeks to monitor the implementation of the new inspection regimes and assess in broad terms their impact from the perspectives of a range of stakeholders. It is also designed to reflect on the implications of inspection regimes for relations between central and local government, for promoting effective and accountable policies and practices, and for bringing about sustainable change in the culture and thinking of local government. The aim of this paper is to identify some of the key issues relating to the development of external inspection of local government functions in order to contribute to the current debate about the effectiveness of these regimes as a means of regulating local public services. The paper therefore provides a preliminary analysis of the scope, style, purpose and effectiveness of the emerging inspection regimes, and some of the key challenges associated with external inspection as a regulatory mechanism. We first examine the increasing importance of external inspection as a means of promoting service improvement. Next, we provide an overview of the remits, resources and approaches of the main inspectorates covering local authority functions. We then examine evidence of the likely impacts of inspection and the range of alternative regulatory mechanisms. Finally, we analyse some of the tensions that we believe exist within emerging inspection regimes and the challenges these pose for central government policy makers, the inspectorates and inspected bodies.

Item Type: Monograph (Project Report)
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Business (Including Economics)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
H Social Sciences > HJ Public Finance
J Political Science > JS Local government Municipal government
Publisher: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Last Modified: 11 Sep 2019 21:44

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