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A GOOD DEAL FOR COUNCIL TAX PAYERS - WELSH LOCAL GOVERNMENT MINISTER SPELLS OUT BEST VALUE MEASURES

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Welsh local government minister Jon Owen Jones has spelt out 'the importance of best value in giving council tax pa...
Welsh local government minister Jon Owen Jones has spelt out 'the importance of best value in giving council tax papers better services and a better deal all round'.

He said, during a visit to Gwynedd Council: 'In addition to visits to Flintshire and Pembrokeshire, I have also met Caerphilly and Bridgend councils to hear what progress they are making on best value.

Gwynedd Council is part of the Wales Evaluation Study into best value and is testing two services - leisure services and highways maintenance.

It is also one of only three Welsh authorities taking part in the evaluation study in which the Warwick Business School is looking at the application of best value in England and Wales.

I appreciate the council's support of the principles of best value and know that the authority is striving to offer local residents and visitors the best service it can.

As well as testing two services, the council has adopted a whole authority approach to its implementation of best value.

Its deputy chief executive, Eurwyn Lloyd Evans, is a member of the Best Value Competition Working Group, which will provide guidance to councils on this important aspect of best value.

I welcome this opportunity of explaining to your readers the advantages that best value can bring.

Best value is about delivering services by the most effective, efficient and economic means available.

Councils will need to:

- make the best use of their resources

- obtain value for money

- avoid waste

- put their local communities first

Arrangements will need to be put in place to secure continuous improvements.

Best value should not be seen as a soft option - neither is it a fudge. On the contrary, authorities should undertake rigorous appraisal of the way in which they deliver all services in a transparent and accountable way. This may be a painful process for some - nevertheless, local people are entitled to expect - and deserve - the best. I want the best possible deal for council taxpayers.

The national assembly will have responsibility for overseeing best value policy in Wales.

Although the assembly will have powers to intervene where there is evidence of service failure, it will wish to work very closely with local government to ensure the success of best value in Wales, and to ensure the powers of intervention need never be used.

The assembly will have responsibility for issuing guidance on how to deliver best value.

The work of the Wales Evaluation Study, undertaken by the Cardiff Business School, will help the assembly draw up this guidance.

Testing the competitiveness of services as part of the review process means that competition will be a key management tool in delivering best value and in drawing up standards.

But unlike Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) it will be a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

CCT brought confrontation, but our approach for best value will be firmly based on a principle of partnership.

We need to make a clean break fromCCT and begin to think more about a flexible and modern approach to service delivery.

But there are some lessons which can be learnt from CCT - the development of sound management and financial systems to monitor service delivery under CCT will still be needed as part of best value.

Last year, I published the White Paper Local Voices on the future pattern of local government in Wales.

One of the key messages in Local Voices was a deep commitment to best value - to seeing things from the user's point of view and not tolerating inefficiency.

Best value is at the heart of the modernisation agenda and one of the acid tests of an authority's commitment to modernisation.

Local authorities account for a large part of public spending. Some get on with the job efficiently, but performance across the board is not consistent. The idea of best value is to put pressure on all authorities to improve their standards and become more efficient, thereby giving a better deal to you, the council-tax payers.

I must emphasise that best value is not an extra burden for councils, but rather a better way of doing things.

It gives Welsh councils such as Gwynedd a chance to show what they can achieve.

Among developments planned this year are a best value website, which will be a bilingual service providing regular updates on the latest developments in Wales. The Best Value Project Group, which is the group developing the best value policy in Wales, is looking at the website proposals, and I hope to see this on line by mid-April.

The project group also publishes a monthly newsletter to provide up-to-date information on best value developments in Wales, and I very much welcome these moves to spread the message as widely as possible.

NOTE

Best value provisions will begin automatically a year after royal assent for the Local Government Bill, which is currently going through parliament. It is intended to abolish the old CCT system on 2 January, 2000.

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