The best value performance indicators for 2001-02 include specific targets for two service areas: waste recycling and the handling of planning applications (see box).
The indicators document states: 'Failure to meet a performance standard will normally be judged as a failure to achieve best value for that particular service. Standards are a powerful and useful tool for driving up performance.'
The Local Government Act 1999 allows the secretary of state to intervene in failing best value authorities and even replace management teams.
While the government has indicated it will use them 'sparingly', minimum standards for other service areas will be introduced in future years.
The DETR has made it plain ministers aim to extend 'floor targets' for performance within the best value framework, following consultation across central and local government.
But the government has sugared the pill of prescription by cutting the overall number of best value and Audit Commission performance indicators from 224 in the year to 166 in 2001-02.
The DETR has sought to delete or combine best value PIs where possible and decided against taking up the majority of existing Audit Commission PIs.
Ministers also want the new best value indicators to reflect national public service agreements for local government, which offer councils the carrot of freedoms and financial incentives.
The new indicators cover eight broad areas: corporate health, education, social services, housing and related services, environment, cultural and related services, community safety and community legal service.
Matthew Warburton, head of strategy at the Local Government Association, welcomed the cut in the number of indicators but said performance standards should only be introduced where the service involved was appropriate.
But he did acknowledge that the service areas chosen to pilot the concept of minimum performance standards - recycling and planning applications - were 'difficult to disagree with'.
BEST VALUE STANDARDS
By 2003/04: Authorities with 1998-99 recycling and composting rates of under 5% to achieve at least 10%
Authorities with 1998-99 recycling and composting rates of 5-15% to double their rates
By 2005/06: Authorities with 1998-99 recycling and composting rates of under 6% to achieve at least 18%
Authorities with 1998-99 recycling and composting rates of 6-12% to treble rates
Authorities with 1998-99 recycling and composting rates of 12-18% to reach at least 36%
Remaining authorities to recycle or compost at least 40% of household waste.
Standard is to apply to local planning authorities determining less than 50% of planning applications made to them within eight weeks in both 1998-99 and 1999-2000
Standard to require those authorities to determine at least 65% of their applications in 2001-02 within eight weeks.