The impact of external inspection on local government

Howard Davis, James Downe and Steve Martin

External inspection is seen as central to the current drive for improved public services.

However, we know very little about its impact and there is growing concern that some of the current inspection regimes demand too much of resources. This report draws upon the first phase of a study of the impact of inspection within local government. It charts the rise of inspection, provides a detailed description of the inspection regimes now covering local authorities, and gives an overview of existing evidence about the effects of inspection.

The authors argue that there is an urgent need to develop a more evidence-based understanding of how improvement is achieved and of the costs and benefits of external inspection. They conclude that there is a real danger that the inspection regimes introduced in recent years could become bogged down in detail and that, if inspection is really to drive improvement, inspectors will need to give more weight to local as well as national priorities, co-ordinate their working practices more and focus their attention on reliable measures of service outcomes.