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The DoE will gain more powers to intervene where it believes councils have acted anti-competitively, under governme...
The DoE will gain more powers to intervene where it believes councils have acted anti-competitively, under government proposals published on Wednesday.

New guidance outlined in a consultation paper on anti- competitive behaviour will place extra duties on all councils in the way they handle CCT.

In particular, as revealed last month (LGC, 1 September), they will have to encourage private sector bids for contracts, and consider whether contracts have been packaged to appeal to private firms.

They will have to ensure all stages of the CCT process are open to scrutiny, and be able to demonstrate they have not acted anti-competitively.

But at the same time the paper offers a less prescriptive approach to monitoring CCT. Councils welcome the more hands-off attitude, but they are worried their responsibilities will be unclear, and the DoE's criteria for levelling charges of anti-competitive behaviour will not be spelt out. This could give ministers leeway to victimise specific councils.

'This leaves a lot of room for the secretary of state to decide what's anti-competitive,' said Lesley Courcouf, assistant secretary of public services at the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. 'I don't want mets blamed if they don't get enough competition.'

Launching the paper, environment minister Sir Paul Beresford said: 'I want a system that puts the onus on authorities to show they have acted fairly and sought to achieve the best possible value for local tax payers.' And in an interview in CCT Focus (published with LGC this issue), Sir Paul says councils should go out and meet private sector contractors if there is a poor response to a contract.

Councils claim parts of the paper indicate the government now better understands how the CCT process works. Councils will be able to specify the outputs they want from a contractor, rather than how a service is carried out, and the new rules will encourage councillors to take a more central role in overseeing the process.

For the first time in anti-competitive guidance, the DoE advises councils to consider their statutory duty in relation to equal opportunities. Ms Courcouf said the DoE had clearly taken note of the Equal Opportunities Commission's claims that CCT discriminates against women, even though Sir Paul dismissed the report.

The paper shows the DoE's concern at the lack of competition for many areas of council work, a problem highlighted by the Audit Commission report Making markets.

It revealed that for seven activities subject to CCT, 25% of councils only receive a tender from their in-house team.

- For a copy of the consultation paper, call Kevin Flanagan, tel: 0171 726 3068.

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