05 March 2004
Hackney finance director claims CPA mark was 'kept low'
The London Borough of Hackney was marked down in one part of its Comprehensive Performance Assessment because of political pressure, the troubled council's finance director claimed at the conference.
Anna Klonowski told delegates that Hackney had scored 'One' under 'use of resources'. This had disappointed finance staff, who believed they had made great strides in turning the council round since government intervention.
But Klonowski said an Audit Commission insider had told her that the council actually deserved a mark of 'Two' or 'Three'.
'There was no way we could give you more than a 'One' because of the government intervention and support,' she claimed to have been told.
Hutton sees good times ahead for public sector
After '25 years of denigration', public services are about to experience a glittering period of success and vitality, according to business and economics expert Will Hutton.
'I characterise the hourglass as half full and filling,' he said.
Hutton, who is also the chief executive of the Work Foundation, told delegates that the billions of pounds being pumped into the public services were making a difference.
At the same time, private sector models based on self-interest and free markets were no longer relevant.
'It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the private
sector will look to the public sector for examples of how to do organisational change, raise performance and deliver productivity,' he added.
The Private Finance Initiative: a con or a cure?
The Private Finance Initiative sparked a lively debate in a Question Time session at the conference ahead of this week's Scottish elections.
Tommy Sheridan, the convener of the Scottish Socialist Party, described the PFI as a New Labour 'con' that pretended to be investment but was simply a form of borrowing. 'We could have produced every one of the PFI schools, hospitals and other projects cheaper, quicker and with less siphoning of public funds into the pockets of private sector vultures,' he claimed.
His Tory and Labour opponents took a decidedly different approach. Annabel Goldie, deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives, praised the risk transfer element of the initiative and claimed that many projects would not have been possible under traditional procurement.
'Imagine if the Scottish Parliament building had been constructed under the PFI. We would not be in the mess we are in at the moment,' she said.
Labour's Hugh Henry unsurprisingly took a third way. He said that the PFI had a role to play but emphasised that it represented only 13% of Scottish capital investment between the years 2000 and 2004.
He criticised the design and construction of some non-PFI school buildings, adding: 'For too long we tried to defend the indefensible.'
Former minister lashes out at inspection systems
A former high-profile minister who held responsibility for Best Value in the Scottish Parliament has questioned the entire validity of audit and inspection in the public services.
Wendy Alexander, Scotland's former minister for communities, told the conference that the audit and inspection regime needed to be overhauled. 'Does it add any value at all? Is there not a different way of looking at value added?' she asked.
She claimed that Best Value shared many of the problems associated with Compulsory Competitive Tendering. When preparing for Best Value in Scotland she had asked her civil servants how many external contracts had been awarded under CCT. The answer was a 'derisory' 1%.
'Sadly at that point I couldn't stop the Best Value regime,' she told delegates. 'But I think it suffered from some of the same issues.'
Alexander had been a rising star in the Labour Party at Holyrood, holding the communities, enterprise and transport portfolios at various stages in her career. She abruptly quit as a minister in 2002 and threatened to stand against Jack McConnell for the first minister's job before thinking better of it.
Her parliamentary experience made her wary of the bureaucracy of audit and inspection. The big issue, she explained, was about 'overhauling, perhaps entirely, the audit, inspection and monitoring regime so that in future we focus a lot more on peer review and self improvement'.
The former minister said there should be fewer central government targets and an emphasis on internal innovation. But there should still be a capacity for government intervention where there is no alternative.