Mr Lovell, assistant director of finance at Wealden DC, and David Magor, head of services (revenues and Benefits) at Oxford City Council, described the best value pilot projects with which they are involved. Both projects involve a group of local authorities working together, but they are exploring best value in very different ways.
The JRS - joint revenue service - set up by Wealden, Tandridge, Brighton and Hove, and Lewes councils, could produce an alternative to either in-house provision or outsourcing to the private sector - a third way for local government, Mr Lovell said. The four councils believe they can achieve economies of scale by establishing a single processing centre, delivering revenues and benefits services to the 530,000 residents of their area.
He explained that they want to be equipped with new technology, such as document management and a call centre, to improve the service to customers. But investment must be paid for by cost savings. Although centralising, they also aim to improve the local service, especially for people in rural areas.
The JRS consortium is also now co-operating with the benchmarking scheme devised by the other joint pilot - the CWOIL group of Cambridge, Welwyn Hatfield, Oxford, Ipswich and Lincoln.
Mr Magor told delegates the CWOIL group had worked out benchmarks based on realistic and accurate cost figures. This had been a laborious task for the accountants, but revealed some striking differences in costs between the authorities.
CWOIL has devised demanding benchmarks, he explained: the authorities have to measure themselves against the average of the top two best authorities on performance and the average of the lowest two on costs.
The CWOIL projects focuses on a range of housing and revenue services. Service development plans are being drawn up for each service and the project also uses extensive consultation with customers. 'We involve the community in developing our services', Mr Magor said. Customers have a role in setting priorities for the srevices and in measuring achievement.
'Without openness the CWOIL project wouldn't work', he said. The councils are open about sharing data and are open-minded about possible solutions.