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We promise this won't hurt a bit

Dear Mrs Shephard, I am delighted to inform you that we have now agreed upon the dates for your inspection. As you know, the Parliamentary Members' Funding Council requires us to carry out an inspection of your performance every four years and I hope that after our three-day visit you will feel that it has been a positive, developmental experience rather than a purely judgmental one.

It would help us if you could have the following material available: 1 A breakdown by gender and ethnic origin of the population of your constituency.

2 Copies of correspondence with constituents.

3 Records of all constituency functions and events attended by you over the past two years.

4 Your voting record over the past two years.

5 A summary of all speeches made by you in the House in the past year.

6 Minutes of all meetings chaired by you in the past year.

7 Your strategic plan for 1995 to 1998.

8 Your operational plan for 199495.

9 Your quality audit for 199495 evaluating your own performance in the light of your strategicand operational plans.

l0 Any other relevant policy statements underpinning your work.

Naturally, we will wish to speak to some of your constituents and to some of your colleagues as part of the assessment of the quality of your performance and we will, of course, be speaking to you, although we must point out that we are not asking you to agree with us when we do so. The final grade of between 1 and 5 which we will award you will be based on consultation not negotiation.

Naturally, we will be popping into your meetings and shadowing you pretty closely over these three days so it is probably best to say expect us when you see us.

You may well wonder if we can assess accurately the quality of your work in three days (two-and-a-half, actually, as we'll be writing your report on the third afternoon) when you have devoted to it many years of energy, enthusiasm and, perhaps at times, sheer inspiration backed up by hard slog.

The answer is, of course, that it is a great challenge to us but we take encouragement from the fact that inspectors are doing this all the time in the further education sector.

I know that some of your recently inspected colleagues have suggested that all the time spent preparing documentation and paperwork for us has distracted them from their main task which is to serve their constituents and their party but I am sure you would not be so cynical.

Your colleagues have also suggested that some inspectors have substituted their own personal preferences as regards how an MP should perform his or her role, in place of the objective criteria for assessment laid out in Circular 932800 Assessing the Achievement of Members of Parliament. We do, of course, seek to be consistent but please remember that inspectors are only human. Prick us, and do we not bleed?

I look forward to seeing you and having the chance to take a "snapshot" of the quality of your performance.

Mike Dixon is lead inspector for the PMFC. In his other life he is director of arts and communication at Park College, Eastbourne.

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