The study, published by the Audit Commission Best Value Inspection Service, assesses whether the council is delivering best value services to local people and how likely these are to improve.
Inspectors gave the division a three star rating (see notes) because
- Clients praised its flexible working, accessibility, responsiveness and quality of advice.
- Staff seem committed and confident that the council is providing a good service to the public.
- The division works well with many other departments in the council.
- It is good at anticipating forthcoming legislation and advising departments about the impact on their work.
However the inspection team believe the service is unlikely to improve because:
- Overall efficiency and value for money is unclear as the service has not been compared properly with other providers of legal services.
- Clients were not fully happy with staff resources which are overstretched, with a lack of staff in specialist areas. Staff are also working in cramped conditions.
- There was little evidence the division had considered alternative methods of delivering services. There are also no clear mechanisms to identify how best to procure services.
- There were no signs of assessing competition with external legal services providers to achieve best value.
Inspectors recommended the division and the council as a whole look closely at the cost of providing services - both detailed and overall value for money - and monitor the situation regularly while fostering even greater joined-up working across the council.
Darra Singh, Northern Region BVIS director, said:
'We gave Bolton's legal department three stars as it delivers an excellent service to departmental clients. It has traditionally offered a good service, but has improved over the past few years.
'However we believe it is unlikely to improve further without a better, clearer approach to planning. It must also assess how far the service offers value for money.'
Mr Singh added: 'The most serious weakness revealed by the best value review is the action plan. Although there are some hopes for improvement, there are no solid methods of implementation or benchmarking for measuring progress.'
1. The Summary Report of the inspection of Legal services at Bolton MBC is available from the Audit Commission website(at end of text).
2. The on-site inspection of legal services at Bolton MBC took place in July and August 2000. It involved interviews with council staff and members, and members of the public using the service.
3. The Best Value Inspection Service is part of the Audit Commission. Itwas established by the 1999 Local Government Act to provide the public with an independent assessment of whether best value is being achieved by their local council. Inspection reports judge how well a service is currently serving local people, based on a star rating from 0-3 where 0 is poor and 3 excellent, and how likely it is to improve in the future.
4. The government has placed a duty of best value on councils requiring them to improve local services over the next five years. Services must be delivered to clear standards of cost and quality - by the most economic, efficient and effective means available. Councils must annually report on their performance (best value performance plans) and review all of their services over the next five years in order to identify and achieve continual improvements in local services.
5. The Best Value Inspection service is responsible for the inspection of local government services, and incorporates a dedicated housing inspectorate responsible for reviewing local authority housing departments and services. The inspection service inspects local social services departments jointly with the Social Services Inspectorate and the Social Services Inspectorate Wales; and inspection of local education authorities jointly with OFSTED and Estyn.
6. The Audit Commission for local authorities and the NHS is an independent body established under the Audit Commission Act 1998. Further details about the Audit Commission Inspection service can be obtained from its website - http://www.bestvalueinspections.gov.uk
7. This is an early best value review, undertaken before the introduction of statutory guidance that came into effect on 1 April 2000.