Best Value inspection threat

Local authorities are running the risk of being over-inspected as they get to grips with the introduction of the Best Value regime, according to the new, incoming president of CIPFA.

Mike Weaver, finance director at Worcestershire County Council, was speaking at the institute’s annual conference in Brighton when he reflected on the issues facing his year in office.

The Best Value regime, which came into force in April, is one of the biggest shake-ups to hit the public sector in years and has been of huge concern to CIPFA members across the country.

Weaver believes the proliferation of inspection has its roots in the relationship between central government and local government.

He says there ‘must be a risk’ of over-inspection as a direct result of the introduction of Best Value.

‘Why is all this happening? Because there is still mistrust between Whitehall and local councils,’ he says.

And one of his first acts as president is to issue a warning to the government that it has to consider carefully the nature of its relationship with local councils when it refers to its ‘partnership’ with them.

‘The partnership, if it’s there, is in danger of being command and control, master and servant, rather than a genuine dialogue, a genuine partnership where people understand each other’s point of view,’ he says.

Weaver takes over from Brian Smith, the outgoing president, who leaves the institute after one of its most successful years with student numbers well up and a mood among the delegates in Brighton that could only be described as celebratory.

Weaver’s own CV seems to have been designed to bring him the highest office with the institute.

Apart from his finance director post, he is also Treasurer of West Mercia Police Force, his local probation service, the local magistrates court and the Regional Museum’s Council. He has served on the institute’s council for many years.

When asked how he fits it all in he says it’s all about ‘clear priorities’ and anticipating what might happen.

However, he refuses to rush to a conclusion on Best Value, preferring to warn about the pitfalls it must avoid, rather than issuing damning comments straight away. Above all else it must resist becoming a process in which inspectors just ‘tick boxes’. It must be about improvement, the process must not be the end itself.

Equally Weaver refuses to rush into condemnation of fellow council member and well know CIPFA dissident Ian Perkin.

A long-time thorn in the side of CIPFA’s management, FD of St George’s Health Care and NHS Trust, Perkin has claimed the marketing of CIPFA qualifications is fatally flawed and will lead only to the ‘terminal decline’ of the institute.

In a conciliatory move Weaver says that Perkin is wrong about the decline and adds that he wants to listen to what he has to say and work with him.

What Weaver is more keen to emphasise is his own three priorities for the institute. He says he has ‘a mission to improve’ and declares it’s no glib thing to say ‘every day in every way we should all be getting better and better’.

He also wants institute members to help make the taxpayers’ pound go further.

Keen to bring this home he cites the example of a CIPFA student who, while working on a project for his examinations, saved his own authority £40,000. Weaver is obviously enthusiastic about this and quotes his own experience from 10 years acting as a CIPFA examiner.

‘I used to keep score of these sorts of saving, being a sort of anorak for all this, but I stopped counting at £100m.’ Proof positive that CIPFA members have a lot to give, according to Weaver.

With that in mind he says his other aim is to see that CIPFA celebrates its own success.

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