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A Labour government would have around 40 councils piloting its 'best value' concept for service delivery, and would...
A Labour government would have around 40 councils piloting its 'best value' concept for service delivery, and would aim to abolish CCT on 1 April 1999.

Under the new system, councils would have a duty to prove they were providing high quality, value for money services.

Abolition of CCT by April 1999 would require legislation to be passed in the first session of the new parliament. In recent months Labour local government figures have been pressing the party to include a local government Bill in the first Queen's Speech, but faced the problems that local government is not a high priority for Tony Blair and the legislation might be too complex to prepare in time.

But now the chances of a local government Bill in the first batch of legislation is being described by Labour sources as 'better than even'. Tony Blair's office sees the quick abolition of CCT as a way to pacify Labour councils which have no prospect of more revenue spending in the next two years. The problem of complex legislation is likely to be addressed by having a short Bill abolishing CCT and introducing annual elections by thirds and the best value regime, and leaving the details to regulation.

A Labour government would write guidance on best value by January 1998, with pilots running from April 1998. These will be 'real' pilots, with the councils' experiences being fed back into the regulations. This is being contrasted with the Tories' pilots on CCT for housing management, where major problems uncovered were ignored when it was extended to all housing authorities. The number of pilots has yet to be determined, but may be around 40. About 30 councils, such as Thurrock BC, Braintree DC and Ipswich BC, have been involved in preliminary work.

The civil servants in the DoE's CCT unit - the competition and quality division - charged with looking at possible alternatives under a Labour government are examining best value. They are surprised at the lack of detail Labour has provided, indicating how much work has to be done before the regulations can be written.

Labour sources say best value will only succeed if councils accept the need for open and clear comparisons between each other's performance, and the need for the public to understand what their council is doing to provide value for money. 'If best value is kept as an internal, bureaucratic system it won't work,' one person working on the idea said.

This will have knock-on effects on private firms competing for local authority business. Labour plans to impose a regime of open-book accounting on both councils and companies, forcing them to publicly justify their claimed costs.

If a Bill is not in the Queen's Speech on 14 May one could still be included in the first session's legislation, as this session of parliament will run right through to the next Queen's Speech around November 1988. This should allow enough time for Bills not mentioned in the speech this month to be passed.

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