Headlines: October 31st, 2001

The review of Best Value announced by Stephen Byers, Secretary of State at DTLR earlier in the month is now revealed as a new style approach to improving public services. The Best Value regime, launched in April 2000, is failing to deliver either improved quality or better value services across local government, which includes police and fire services. The regime aims to promote a culture of continuous improvement in each authority through a rolling five-year review programme of all its functions and to monitor the outcome against national Best Value Performance Indicators. In reality Best Value has proved a burden in consuming resources to little effect and it has had virtually no effect on the organizational culture.Reviews of public services by central departments take different forms, but usually the work is carried out by a departmental team, sometimes headed by an ‘outsider’. The team consult stakeholders, but then present their views to Ministers. This model is typified by the impending review of the Courts Service which will be is led by the Lord Chancellor’s Department with team members from other departments. The Best Value review is unique in that the team has been drawn from a wide range of stakeholders. It includes representatives from central and local government, the Audit Commission, the TUC and the private and voluntary sectors. Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford will head the team.

This experiment in bringing in stakeholders has widespread implications for all public services. If the review team produce a credible alternative to the current Best Value regime, which stakeholders can sign up to, this new model of review is likely to be applied widely. For example a future Courts Service review team might include representatives of the Law Society, Citizens Advice Bureau and other charities concerned with victims and criminals.