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TOUGH TIMES ANTICIPATED IN BETTER SERVICES REGIME

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Only half of chief officers and 20% of senior councillors fully understand best value, while most front-line staff ...
Only half of chief officers and 20% of senior councillors fully understand best value, while most front-line staff have little idea about the regime.

A survey of 249 English and Welsh councils shows less than half the English pilots, a quarter of Welsh pilots and fewer than a fifth of non-pilot councils say their leaders are 'well informed' on best value.

Around a third of English unitaries and a quarter of counties and metropolitan councils saw their leaders as 'very well informed', but fewer than 20% of shire districts and London boroughs did.

Internal communications show large gaps: a third of Welsh pilots and 9% of English pilots have not given members briefing papers on best value; members remained uninformed in nearly half of other council types.

The survey was carried out by the Local Government Association, Local Government Management Board and Warwick Business School, and shows that nearly all managers responsible for best value say they understand the framework. It was sent to lead officers on best value.

But 'only just over half thought chief officers in their authority were similarly knowledgeable and fewer than a fifth reported that senior The vast majority of councils expect a tough time under best value in boosting service standards and improving public perception.

One in 10 says they are 'not at all well prepared' for the new regime.

The survey shows that while councils believe the most important elements of the new regime are user satisfaction, service quality and cost effectiveness, most say these will be 'fairly' to 'very' difficult to achieve.

They say the hardest targets will be those involving improving staff morale (82%), public understanding (73%), equality of access (69%) and service cost-effectiveness (69%).

Some 68% of councils said raising users' satisfaction would be fairly or very difficult; 58% said the same of lifting their service quality.

The survey includes pilots and non-pilots of all council types.

A tenth said they were not well prepared for best value, 61% said they were fairly well prepared and just over a quarter (27%) said they were very well prepared. Unitaries, metropolitan districts and Welsh councils were the most confident, with pilot councils scoring well above those that hadn't bid to test the scheme.

Despite anticipated difficulties, the survey showed an enthusiastic take-up of best value. Around 30% of all councils plan to adopt it for all or most services in the next year and a further 54% plan to apply it to some areas.

LGMB senior research officer Jon Sutcliffe said the results showed councils were being realistic about how difficult some of the objectives would be to achieve.

Respondents were being honest about their expectations rather than reiterating the government line on the new policy, he said.

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