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OPINION - THE WAY TO BEST VALUE

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Watching the birth of new legislation in the Scottish Parliament is a highly transparent business. ...
Watching the birth of new legislation in the Scottish Parliament is a highly transparent business.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Local Government in Scotland Bill, which will provide a statutory regime for best value and community planning.

Scottish local government is being sucked into detailed discussions on the bill, but is in danger of failing to grasp the big picture - namely, accountability at a local level.

Equally as important is how we redesign the business processes scattered across the ugly landscape of public agencies introduced in the 1990s.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has welcomed a statutory framework for best value and community planning but, in practice, this was already in place.

It is the failure to roll out best value and business redesign across the other public agencies that will be the real impediment to better local governance.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Scottish local government adopted a strong community development focus which challenged departmental hegemonies and led to social

and economic strategies that counterbalanced the government's centralisation tendencies.

Community development was given a major tranche of the urban programme, diverting attention from transforming public services. This is a great pity since the analysis was consistent with today's thinking.

Many of the community development protagonists of this period are now in leadership. They have helped shape the Scottish vision of social inclusion, joined-up services, sustainable development, health improvement and local democratic accountability.

The problem they now face is proposed legislation which is more focused on ministerial guidance and proper accounting procedures.

The logical outcome should be a Local Government Bill which enshrines local governance and not just local government.

Community planning starts and finishes with the aspirations of citizens and communities. Best value can only be effective if it extends across all services, and business redesign is able to transcend the artificial barriers between public and private that have colonised our minds.

It is sometimes hard for both national and local government to acknowledge local democracy as the most effective way to achieve community planning and best value.

Keith Yates

Chief executive, Stirling Council

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