14 February 2002 | Robin Parker
Welsh councils have welcomed proposals to give them more freedom in issuing tenders and monitoring their own services. But local government representatives have warned that greater self-governance is likely to place huge demands on public-sector professionals.
The councils issued their responses last week to Welsh assembly guidelines for a more flexible approach to reviews and inspections. Edwina Hart, finance minister, said the guidelines aimed to improve local services by “empowering local authorities themselves to lead and manage”.
The improvement programme will replace best value and allow councils to conduct their own reviews with a little help from outside agencies of their choice. It requires authorities to analyse their overall performance and achieve continuous improvement.
The legislation, to be introduced in April after next month’s Welsh local government white paper, will allow authorities to quiz bidders on “non-commercial matters”, including staff terms and conditions and the conduct of contractors in industrial disputes.
Adrian Hobson, a cabinet member of Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council and procurement manager for Cadw:Welsh Historic Monuments Executive Agency, welcomed the idea but said it could prove difficult in practice.
“Any move to give purchasers more freedom in the public sector needs to be handled responsibly,” he said. “The more non-commercial factors you bring into the equation, the more contentious the award can become, and the criteria on which bids are assessed need to be objective.”
The Welsh Local Government Association said the programme would empower authorities to deliver improvements, but added that many councils would find it hard to identify their own strengths and weaknesses.
The programme will also establish a wider range of ways of conducting reviews.
Procurement, it says, could particularly benefit from optional joint reviews for authorities involved in consortium buying, with action plans spelling out each organisation’s role and financial input.
Under best value, such projects are still assessed on an individual basis.
Hobson welcomed the idea as an “aspirational” move towards co-operative procurement.
“It’s a fundamental, necessary change and authorities need to have that option available to avoid inter-authority politics.”