Public Sector – Confusion over best value bill

Fears grew this week about the inclusion of major local government reforms in next Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech.

Best value, the government’s proposed replacement for compulsory competitive tendering, is due to form a major plank of the Local Government Bill, which was scheduled to be included in the speech. The system, launched by local government minister Hilary Armstrong in July last year, would force councils to secure economic, efficient and effective services.

But parliamentary sources hinted this week that the government might not have room in its legislative programme for the bill. MPs gave out conflicting signals about what they expected to be included.

Several claimed the government’s planned best value regime was in the speech. But others suggested Tony Blair could put the reforms on hold to allow extra time for the controversial planned abolition of hereditary peers.

Any decision to drop the bill would be a blow to its mastermind, deputy prime minister John Prescott, who has already seen his integrated transport plans watered down.

Local government insiders were confident a bill would be published but feared it could be scuppered by the Lords debate. A Local Government Association source warned that if abolition of hereditary peers took longer than anticipated, the local government bill could run out of time.

‘The fact that a bill has been published does not mean it will become law,’ the source said. ‘If either a local government bill or a bill without best value is published, there is a real danger of the momentum for change in local government being lost.’

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