Headlines: March 5th, 1998

Detailed proposal for changing the way councils deliver services have been announced by Local Government Minister Hilary Armstrong. The consultation paper – Modernising local government – puts flesh on the bones of the Best Value initiative launched in June 1997. The closing date for responses to the paper is 1 May 1998.A key element of the proposals is to radically raise the involvement of local people from an occasional appearance in a polling booth to a regular contribution to the decision making process for the council’s services. This consultation will be done through surveys and panels. They will also be given the information for assessing the performance of their council.

The consultation paper makes it clear that results will only be delivered through a cultural change. Whilst local authorities have improved the effectiveness of services and made efficiency gains the ‘Tomorrow we have to be better than yesterday attitude’ has not gained widespread acceptance. Best Value seeks to change this by introducing an annual service review. A quarter of services will be reviewed each year in the search for improved performance and this will result in the adoption of a range of short and long term targets. National performance standards will inform the target setting process.

Best Value will replace the Compulsory Competitive tendering regime with a legislative duty, Codes of Guidance from the Secretary of State and performance indicators drawn up by the Audit Commission.

Announcing the paper Hilary Armstrong said: ” Best value will revolutionise the way all councils deliver services. Star performers will get new credibility. Poor performers will have to brush up their act. Government will have new powers to intervene where services don’t come up to scratch. Councils will use all means, including competition, to ensure that quality services are provided, whether by the private or public sector.”