PracticeConsultingThrowing out CCT for best value

Throwing out CCT for best value

With the Labour administration entering its 18th month in power, the mantra of best value has become well known to public-sector accountants. But the concept has yet to be fully defined. Ben Griffiths examines the issues surrounding the policy.

So what does best value mean? There have been several pointers as to how the new regime will be applied and what effects it could have at grass roots level.

The Labour government is opposed to the continuation of Compulsory Competitive Tendering, and it envisages that best value will take over and provide local taxpayers with value for money services.

It wants to give local authorities a duty to achieve what it terms ‘Best Value’ in service provision. Performance targets will be set to under-pin the regime.

The government has proposed legislation to create a statutory duty on local authorities, which includes police and fire services, to obtain best value by securing economic, efficient and effective services. The duty should apply to a wider range of services than those now covered by CCT. Details are being worked up jointly with government departments, the Audit Commission and the Local Government Association.

At the launch of best value in July last year, local government minister Hilary Armstrong said: ‘Best value will be a duty on local authorities to provide the quality of service that local people expect at a price they are willing to pay.’

So far, the government has said it only wants to impose a statutory framework within which councils will be free to establish what their communities require.

This approach would leave authorities with the flexibility to adapt their approach as the situation develops.

The government insists that best value will not transfer decisions about cost and quality in local services from councils to the courts or auditors.

It maintains that it is essential for local people to make decisions which will affect their communities.

Prior to replacing CCT, a series of pilot schemes have been undertaken to assess how a best value regime could work. A number of local authorities are participating with the added incentive that they are allowed to cease their CCT activities while undertaking the pilot work.

The LGA has welcomed the introduction of best value and called for early legislation to allow the concept to progress quickly. It is most concerned that best-value auditing should judge councils as a corporate whole and not as a collection of services.

Additionally, the LGA is urging the government to complement best value with wider powers to give councils greater freedom from central control by abolishing universal capping and returning the local business rate.

Crucially, best value is designed to give local people the opportunity to participate in decisions about local priorities and standards. It will force authorities to look outwards to service users. It will also provide a freer environment for local authorities and the private sector to work together to find the best way of delivering high quality and competitive services.

Central government will continue to set the basic framework for service provision. It will also provide powers for intervention if local authorities do not grasp the opportunities that the framework will provide.

Once the regime is in place, there will be no general requirement for services such as refuse collection, social services and grounds maintenance to be privatised. But the government insists that there is no reason why services should be delivered directly if other more efficient means are available.

Auditors will report publicly on whether best value has been achieved. This will include agreeing measurable targets for improvement and reporting on progress against and agreed plan.

If an authority fails to implement measures to secure quality and cost effectiveness, it will be open to criticism by its auditors or local inspector. In cases of extreme failure, the environment secretary would have the power to intervene.

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