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Paper 5 -  28 September 2001Meeting

ASSOCIATION OF HAMPSHIRE AND ISLE OF WIGHT LOCAL AUTHORITIES

28 September 2001

BETTER VALUE FROM BEST VALUE

Report by the Policy Manager and the Associationís Best Value Network

RECOMMENDATIONS

(1) That the LGAís proposals for streamlining Best Value be supported;

(2) That the joint statement on better inspection be supported; and

(3) That the Association re-iterates its concern about bureaucratic aspects of both best value regulation and inspection to the LGA and DTLR.

BACKGROUND

1. Members voiced their concerns about the way Best Value has operated at the March meeting of the Association. Particular examples of the over-prescriptive nature of the Best Value regime were given by East Hampshire District Council. These concerns were copied to the Local Government Association (LGA) and referred to the officers.

2. The Associationís Best Value Network (chaired by Test Valley) considered all the concerns of Member authorities, plus those of Bournemouth, Poole and Southampton who participate in the Network.

3. The LGA produced a series of proposals which were broadly in tune with our own thinking: their proposals for change are set out below.

Best value performance indicators (BVPIs)

* reduce the number of BVPIs to focus on national priorities and achieve a better fit with local government Public Service Agreement (PSA) indicators, use outcome indicators wherever possible;

* encourage authorities to make more use of local indicators to measure progress towards meeting local priorities agreed in community strategies;

* use the local PSA process to negotiate locally appropriate targets for performance on national priorities in preference to one-size-fits-all national standards or top-quartile targets;

Best value performance plans (BVPPs)

* acknowledge that BVPPs are most use for managers, members and auditors, not the general public; donít expect a glossy publication;

* encourage authorities to try different approaches to the relationship between community strategies, BVPPs and other strategies and plans;

* change the 31 March publication for the BVPP, to 30 June. This would allow full-year reporting of performance information and reviews, could improve political ownership of forward targets and achieve a better fit with the budget cycle;

* review and rationalise the separate requirements for household circulation of summary financial and performance information, focus on information that can be demonstrated to be of value to local people, encourage and evaluate experiments with innovative communication methods, such as local radio or TV;

Best value reviews

* develop the "strategic" review model advocated by the Audit Commission and identify examples of good practice which can be adapted for use by authorities in different circumstances (large/small, unitary/two-tier, urban/ rural etc.);

* encourage joint reviews by groups of authorities on shared issues, particularly in areas of multi-tiered local government;

* ensure that encouragement and advice from all key players (Ministers, auditors, inspectors, LGA, IDeA and relevant professional bodies) is consistent with and reinforces a strategic, outcome-focussed approach;

Best value audit

* review audit guidance to reduce the emphasis on compliance and focus attention on the overall adequacy of performance arrangements;

* improve consistency among auditors and between messages from auditors and inspectors;

Support for improvement

* ensure that support is adequately resourced;

* develop support to meet specific needs of smaller authorities and two-tier local government;

* ensure that peer review, corporate governance inspection and performance support operate to complement and reinforce each other.

4. Individual authorities have commented on the LGAís proposals, broadly supporting them.

JOINT STATEMENT ON BETTER INSPECTION

5. In response to pressure from local authorities, including our Membersí comments, the LGA is urging the Government to consider "lighter touch" inspections for councils which come out well from the IDeA local government improvement programme. (This Association has received a presentation on this programme from the IDeA and from Winchester City Council who participated at an early stage. A number of other Member authorities have subsequently taken part).

6. The LGA proposals are contained in a joint statement with the Inspectorates. Proposals include:

* a focus on outcomes for local people, not procedures or processes;

* effective incentives to help councils improve performance;

* negotiated targets for improvements - not imposed targets - using local PSAs.

7. PSAs are a key aspect of the LGA proposals, offering financial incentives and freedoms to councils working in partnership. Hampshire County, Isle of Wight and Portsmouth City Council have started work on PSAs and a report will be prepared for this Association on this development taking into account the role of Districts in a Hampshire PSA.

8. It is vital that the costs of inspection should be reduced. "Lighter-touch" inspections where authorities have already paid for IDeA improvement studies would be a start. But the key ingredients are to relate the "weight" of the inspection to the size and risk factors involved in the service(s) under consideration.

9. The Chief Executivesí Group has met with the Best Value Inspectorate and District Audit to press home Membersí concerns. Some changes are expected over the coming months and we will be keeping a close eye on this issue.

CONCLUSION

10. Best value and inspections should be kept as simple as possible, focussed on delivery of services to a quality for which the customers/taxpayers are prepared to pay. There are signs that the Government and the Audit Commission are taking Membersí criticisms seriously and are preparing to react both in the short term and in the proposed Local Government White Paper expected later this year. Alan Whitehead, MP, may be able to give some first-hand information on this at the next meeting.

NICK GOULDER
Policy Manager

Date: 18 September 2001
Annex: 0
Contact: Nick Goulder - 023 8068 8431, E-mail hiow@eastleigh.gov.uk

Last update: 20/09/2001
Author: Nick Goulder, Policy Manager

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