Councils 'sabotage' best value plans

19 April 2000
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20 April 2000 | Elizabeth Bellamy

Some councils are assuming that best value is a "transitory regime" and are "lying through their teeth" about how they are conforming to the plan, according to an academic.

Tony Bovaird, head of public sector management research at Aston Business School, said several councils were deliberately "putting obstacles" in the way of private-sector companies' bids for services that were currently provided by in-house teams.

"Some councils would prefer to keep their own teams because it's easier, there's a sense of local pride in doing it themselves and because they believe the voters are scared that it will result in job losses," said Bovaird, who was speaking at the Public Sector Expo in London this month.

Councils were discouraging outside bidders by being hostile so that they "got the message not to bid", he added.

Under best value, which is part of the Local Government Act 1999, councils must review their services to see if they should be done by in-house teams or contracted out. The reviews will include benchmarking against other councils.

Bovaird said most authorities used benchmarking, but did not always do it correctly because carrying out in-depth comparisons was expensive.

It would be "some time" before best value took effect, he said. "Compulsory competitive tendering (CCT) was abolished on 1 January, but it is still written into the way many local authorities conduct themselves," said Bovaird.

CCT had encouraged the sort of obstructive behaviour recently seen in local authorities, he added.

Best value was difficult to implement, said Caroline Mikardo, head of strategic resources at the London Borough of Lewisham, a council that is piloting the scheme. It was hard to get commitment from senior officers who saw it as "just another initiative from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions", she said.

In addition, "best value is resource intensive, in terms of both staff and money", added Mikardo.

Purchasing staff should make the most of best value, according to David Wheller, head of corporate procurement at Essex County Council. "It's a chance to move strategic purchasing into local authorities," he said.

A DETR spokesperson said it would be "very hard to avoid" best value.


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