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Paper 6 -  23 March 2001

ASSOCIATION OF HAMPSHIRE AND ISLE OF WIGHT LOCAL AUTHORITIES

23 March 2001

BEST VALUE - REGISTERING MEMBERSí CONCERNS

Report by the Policy Manager

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RECOMMENDATION

That the Associationís Best Value Officersí Network considers the weaknesses in the revised Best Value regime for 2001/2 and reports back with a view to lobbying the LGA/DETR.

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BACKGROUND

1. The Best Value regime has emerged in response to Local Governmentís collective representations about Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) and Performance Management techniques. It has been heavily influenced both by the Local Government Association and by central government departments. Whilst the regime is prescriptive, performance is still ultimately voluntary.

2. The LGA are keen to improve the Best Value regime and avoid an alternative (potentially compulsory) regime which may be even worse.

3. It is vital for authorities to work together to make Best Value as sensible as possible.

PROBLEMS EXPERIENCED IN EAST HAMPSHIRE

4. East Hampshire has experienced problems over a range of issues relating to specific performance indicators, survey methods and the level of prescription being applied by the Government. Examples are as follows:

Best Value surveys:

5. The Council was required to carry out 7 surveys using a prescribed methodology. This requirement did not take into account the Councilís own research programme, which has been carried out through MORI surveys over the last 10 years. The Council had to change its consultation programme to fit in with the DETR requirements, despite the fact that the MORI surveys cover the same areas of service and provide more detailed information which the Council is able to use to improve services.

6. The prescribed probability sampling methodology is more expensive than the quota sampling used by MORI and its usefulness to the Council is limited. The use of quota sampling by MORI enables a balanced sample to be used so that responses can be grouped by geographical area. This enables performance to be related, and reported, to the Councilís four Area Community Committees. As probability sampling is based on a random sample, this geographically-based information is not available. This form of sampling enables comparisons to be made between local authorities, but does not provide information which enables the Council to target areas for improvement.

7. The rules for adding questions to the prescribed surveys were very restrictive. Follow-up questions aimed at eliciting the reasons for particular responses could not be included at the point where they would have made most sense to the respondent.

8. The responses to the surveys included a very high level of Ďneutral/no opinioní, for example, the survey on housing services produced a 61% neutral/no opinion response. This resulted from the samples surveyed including people who have no direct experience of the service concerned. The example quoted would reflect the fact that the Council no longer has any housing stock. For the other surveys, the Ďneutral/no opinioní percentage ranged from 23% to 46%. This problem does not arise with the Councilís normal research methods as these cover areas which are known to be local priorities or areas of concern, as identified over the last ten years through a wide range of consultation methods.

9. The survey on satisfaction with Planning services produced a result of: 37% satisfied, 19% dissatisfied and 44% neutral/no opinion. Again this demonstrates the problems associated with a random sample. Under the same legislation, the Planning Service is required to gather regular feedback from planning applications. Taking into account responses from both successful and unsuccessful applicants, the service achieves a high level of user satisfaction at 84%.

10. This high level of user satisfaction is based on meeting the needs of residents as ascertained through research. This shows that local people place a higher emphasis on the quality of the planning service than on the speed of determination of applications.

Best Value Performance Indicators

11. The Council has had difficulties over the past two years in meeting its targets for determining planning applications, due mainly to staff shortages. As a result, this Council, with a number of others, has been set a target of 65% for determining planning applications in 8 weeks. The Council is on target to achieve this, but the imposition of a national target which does not reflect the priorities expressed by local residents does not seem consistent with the principles of Best Value which are to provide the services which local residents want at a price they are prepared to pay.

12. One further issue is the wording of the definitions of some of the performance indicators. In some instances, these have proved difficult for officers to interpret and advice has been sought from the Audit Commission helpline. More importantly, the language used is not readily understood by people outside local government. The extent to which the wording can be revised to make it more clear in documents such as the Best Value Performance Plan is not clear.

CONCLUSION

13. These concerns have been raised by East Hampshire with a view to assisting the Association and the LGA to lobby effectively. The Government will be making further adjustments to the Best Value regime during 2001/2002. It is recommended that the Associationís Best Value Officersí Network consider what specific representations to make, and report back.

NICK GOULDER
Policy Manager

Date: 7 March 2001
Annex: 0
Contact: Nick Goulder - 023 8068 8431, E-mail hiowlang@hants.gov.uk

Last update: 14/03/2001
Author: Nick Goulder, Policy Manager

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