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BEST VALUE - WIGAN WORKS IT OUT

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By Peter Smith, leader Wigan MBC ...
By Peter Smith, leader Wigan MBC

Best value and public service agreements have obvious similarities but, there are important differences between them. Both emphasise links through vision and strategy, identifying outcomes, performance management, community involvement and partnerships.

But while best value is an authority-wide activity PSAs focus on the main services affecting the public - and there is incentive funding.

Each successful pilot will receive£50,000 for drawing up and administering PSAs and the opportunity to receive a performance reward grant equal to 2.5% of their budget requirement for achieving the outcomes agreed. That could mean several million pounds for a council such as Wigan MBC. With such sums involved, it is not surprising that while best value applies to everyone, PSAs are formal agreements between the DETR and councils.

Wigan's interest in PSAs dates back to its involvement with the Local Government Association's Local challenge proposals in 1999. We have always felt councils with a track record of sound financial management and service delivery should set challenging targets and be allowed to innovate how they are achieved. We feel we have such a record.

We have a national reputation in three of the key service areas involved - education, social services and community safety.

Between 1998 and 2000 we carried out a full scale dry-run of best value that led our external auditors to say Wigan was 'at the cutting edge of developing its approach.'

To make sense of everything we needed an overall framework. We chose the European Foundation Quality Management model and have implemented detailed assessments in all departments.

The model is giving us the ability to understand better which buttons to press to improve services, which will aid future best value reviews.

PSAs are where it all comes together. A culture of innovation through partnerships, delivering quality services for relatively low cost, self-assessment and an early track record in best value are combining in a council that can have confidence in its ability to specify and meet the enhanced outputs required by PSAs.

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Eight of the 24 councils in the running to become public service agreement pilots have experience as best value pilots.

Among the seven guaranteed a place, three - Camden LBC, Sunderland City Council and Warwickshire CC were best value pilots.

A further five - Birmingham City Council, Lewisham LBC, Newham LBC, Newcastle City Council and Surrey CC - will find out whether they will become PSA pilots next month.

Though the PSA pilots are self-selecting, it is felt ministers have favourites. These include Newham and Lewisham LBCs and Birmingham City Council.

Local government minister Hilary Armstrong said: 'The scheme shows a real commitment to deliver the key outcomes identified in the spending review.'

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