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FRONT LINE FIRST-EDUCATION

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Best value must be part of corporate plans ...
Best value must be part of corporate plans
I have to keep reminding myself that best value is not, as its name may suggest, simply about efficiency - it is about continuous improvement and value for money.
The 2% efficiency saving envisaged as an outcome of any best value review might be appropriate, at least in the first reviews. But what about re-investment and increased quality of provision? That is why best value cannot be separated from corporate planning processes and why I welcome local government minister Nick Raynsford's intention to reduce the surrounding bureaucracy.
Community planning, with the supporting involvement of citizen's juries, community forums, user groups, focus groups, and input from ward-focused, backbench councillors will identify local priorities and needs. The government, with the momentum of its election success, will identify national priorities.
Having identified strategic priorities from these sources, how can we be certain that, over time, our aspirations are being addressed?
Performance indicators are a snapshot of achievements, identifying trends to demonstrate the extent to which our aspirations are being realised. But they are not targets in themselves.
To move corporate aspirations forward appropriate policies need to be in place. Old policies need to be reviewed and new ones established. These policies only provide a framework and to be effective they need to be converted into strategies and action plans. Those action plans will build on performance indicators and determine the council's commitment to this area of work.
The policy's implementation through strategies and action plans will require monitoring to determine the usefulness of both the policies and their delivery in practice.
Here we have the interplay between
the executive and the overview and scrutiny functions of our modernised councils.
A good scrutiny function will listen to the voice of the people and be aware of how policies and their management affect the lives of the electorate. If outputs - as measured against stated targets - and outcomes - the real effect of the policies on the people - do not live up to expectations, two actions need to be taken. The action plans need to be reviewed and changed and/or the policies reconsidered.
This leads us to best value reviews. These should be undertaken when it is not possible to demonstrate continuous improvement is taking place by any other means. Rather than placing council functions on an ad hoc five-year circus of reviews, such an approach pulls the process of best value into the heart of corporate planning. A review structure of this type is based firmly on self-evaluation - moderated by the inspection process.
My final hope is that secretary of state fro local government Nick Raynsford can line up Ofsted and the Best Value Inspectorate. Are we to be inspected on the best value process or on the robustness of the implementation plans?
In summary, monitoring and self-evaluation are about identifying how a council's policies and management processes deliver services to the people and combine the executive and scrutiny roles. Best value is about building on that and moving councils forward.
Jackie Strong
Director of education, Leicestershire CC
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