Monday, March 20, 2006

Lies, Damn Lies and BVPI64

Let me start off by making my position clear. Local government performance indicators are in most cases flawed. Some are ambiguous, some measure the wrong thing, and some are open to abuse. Nevertheless in the main I think they are a good thing. They do at least give a sense of how well local government is performing. They give tangible evidence to the public and the press of what is going on. And they bestow a level of importance on the activity that is being measured.

For all these reasons I think BVPI64 (the best value performance indicator that measures local government performance in getting privately owned empty homes back into use) is valuable and worthwhile. However I am become a little worried that the flaws are beginning to undermine its value. I have really noticed this year how more and more people are questioning the validity of the data. There is some obvious overcounting and I suspect some undercounting in local authorities measured performance. As the time for preparing your returns approaches I would urge you all to make it accurate and meaningful this year.

To help you NAEPP have prepared some guidance: http://www.naepp.org.uk/website/drupal/BVPI64 It is helpful and well written, but I’m afraid it does have some troubling loopholes. I know what it’s like at this time of year in a local authority. There is a final push to try and meet targets. It’s probably too late for any more real activity before the 31st March cut off so it’s a case of making sure that all activity over the last year has been properly recorded. When the performance just isn’t there, there is a temptation to find loopholes instead. Two examples that I know about are local authorities counting all properties procured by RSLs and through private sector leasing schemes on the basis that the properties were vacant for days or possibly hours between lets. Secondly at least one local authority is counting successful housing advice casework that prevents an eviction on the basis that the local authority believes the property would have become empty had they not intervened. Both of these could be argued to comply with the indicator but are at best not in the spirit of what the indicator is intended to measure.

Equally bad is undercounting. Some 60 local authorities in England reported that they had brought no properties back into use last year. Some of these actually employ empty property officers – work that one out. A lot more local authorities report annual performance of bringing just one or two properties back into use a year. I have no knowledge that there is undercounting of performance in these local authorities, but undercounting certainly exists. One problem seems to be the departmental nature of local government. Some empty property officers compiling returns record just their activity. But the indicator is supposed to measure the performance of the whole authority, not just the empty property officer or the section of the council that has lead responsibility. There are many activities that local authorities undertake that cause empty properties to be returned to use. Here are a few examples:

· Legal sections recovering debt and enforcing the sale of empty properties to liquidate the debt.
· Regeneration and road widening schemes compulsorily purchasing empty properties for demolition
· Joint local authority RSL purchase and repair schemes of empty properties.
· Landlord accreditation schemes encouraging landlords to purchase empty properties or to return their own empties to use.

They all count so investigate them and see what your authority has achieved as a whole. I did speak to one local authority officer who told me he would be deliberately undercounting this year in order to draw attention to his underfunded plight. Lets not play games this year lets get it right.

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