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TRUE COST OF BEST VALUE SHATTERS EARLY ESTIMATES

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The cost of best value is escalating dramatically, according to Improvement and Development Agency figures which d...
The cost of best value is escalating dramatically, according to Improvement and Development Agency figures which double estimates made six months ago.

An IDeA study seen by LGC shows the direct costs of best value could total£92m in 2000-01. This compares with the estimate of£55m for 2001-02 submitted by the Local Government Association to the comprehensive spending review in January.

This year's standard spending assessments reflect inspection and best value performance plan audit fees. But so far councils have received nothing for direct costs. These include:

Preparing performance plans

Assembling performance indicator data

The best value review process

Consultation.

It is now too late to ask the government to reflect the£92m figure in the CSR announcement next month, although it may reflect the£55m estimate.

IDeA senior research officer Jon Sutcliffe said it would be difficult for councils to meet the costs through savings, as Whitehall expects. He said: 'I don't think there are many people in local government who are convinced; nothing we have come up with suggests this is the case. There aren't great mounds of cash to chuck about in councils.'

Boston BC director of resources Don McGregor said his council had doubled the number of best value posts from two to four. '[Best value] is very resource hungry. We can only find the money for four people by diverting it away from something else. There will come a time where the demand for resources exceeds the available budget. At that point we possibly will have problems.'

But if services improved the expenditure would be worthwhile, he said. LGA deputy local government finance director Mike Grealy said: 'This demonstrates that the investment in introducing best value is higher than originally estimated. The key thing is that ministers need to be patient about the delivery of savings. Clearly, the costs are up front but the savings are further down the line.'

The DETR said: 'SR 2000 considers all local government policy in terms of consideration for funding and, of course, best value will be part of that.'

The IDeA study found staff morale was a problem. Mr Sutcliffe said: 'In a fair number of authorities the best value message still hasn't filtered through to staff. There are a lot of people whose fear is the agenda is about cutting jobs, pay and benefits. Managers have to redouble their efforts to make sure staff know what's going on.'

Only three-quarters of councils are happy with the political structures in place for best value. Member involvement in best value is patchy. Overall, members are involved in best value corporate consultation in 66% of councils. But they are involved in just 29% of London boroughs.

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