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WALES DELAYS LAUNCH OF BEST VALUE AND BEACONS

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The Welsh Assembly has delayed the introduction of best value and beacon councils. ...
The Welsh Assembly has delayed the introduction of best value and beacon councils.

Best value has been put back to the end of June, giving Welsh councils an extra three months' preparation over their English counterparts.

Local government secretary Peter Law announced the change in the statutory deadline for producing best value performance plans, previously set at 31 March.

Mr Law said he had been persuaded by the Welsh Local Government Association argument that councils are required to report on the previous year's performance in these plans, 'and that it is difficult, to say the least, to do this when the previous year has not yet ended'.

Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrat members of the local government committee had threatened to vote against the draft order on best value reviews and performance plans if this change was not made.

WLGA head of corporate affairs Paul Griffiths welcomed the change of heart. It would 'allow for better quality performance information with an opportunity for public scrutiny and comment in advance of decisions', he said.

The new best value announcement is one of a number made by Mr Law in the past week which have given a distinct flavour to the government's modernisation drive in Wales.

Most significantly, Mr Law announced that the beacon council scheme in Wales, still not up and running, would be delayed until an unspecified date in 2001.

The first 42 English beacons were named in January. 'We had originally intended to bring in a beacon scheme this year,' he said. 'However, authorities are currently under a good deal of pressure from competing priorities.'

'[The delay] should enable local authorities to make progress in introducing best value, the new management arrangements, ethical framework and community

planning,' he said.

This news was also welcomed by the WLGA. 'Our view is not against the beacon council scheme,' Mr Griffiths said. 'We feel we can make a better job of it a year down the line rather than rushing into it now.'

Mr Law also made clear that amendments will be tabled to the Local Government Bill to create a duty for councils to Wales to undertake community planning. As the Bill stands, Welsh councils are empowered, but not obliged, to produce community plans.

The WLGA had described this as 'the key flaw' in the Local Government Bill. It argued that councils should become jointly responsible with the Assembly for strategic planning across Wales through a duty to co-ordinate local interests.

Finally, the new functions and powers of the standards board and the ethical standards officers will be conferred on the existing Welsh local government ombudsman.

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