Best Value lobbying mounts

8 Oct 98
Business and local government joined forces this week in last- ditch attempts to persuade the government to include Best Value legislation in next month's Queen's speech.

09 October 1998

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Local Government Association (LGA) said their lobbying efforts would intensify after signals from last week's Labour party conference that Best Value – the initiative to improve council services – could fall by the wayside because of a lack of parliamentary time.

The government is apparently concerned that proposed reform of the House of Lords could provoke peers into attempting to scupper or delay much of Labour's legislative programme, including planned local government reforms.

But Labour sources were keen to stress that 'no final decision' had been taken over which local government legislation will feature in the Queen's speech.

At the CBI, senior policy advisor Amanda McIntyre said that any delay over legislation would confuse potential private sector contractors willing to get involved in Best Value. The CBI has 250,000 members across the private sector. Ms McIntyre added: 'Legislation is needed as much for the message it will send to business and local authorities as for the benefits of updating the procurement regime to fit best practice. A hiatus would be disastrous.'

At the Local Government Association (LGA), Will Hamill, government relations and public affairs officer, said the association would continue to press for Best Value legislation.

Best Value is one of Labour's central policy tenets. Ever since the May 1997 election, government ministers have stressed the need for a new regime to replace the widely disliked Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) brought in by the Conservatives.

Any postponement of legislation could also have consequences for councils still facing CCT timetables and regulations. Those authorities may now have to comply with CCT rules while still preparing for Best Value legislation when it is eventually passed.

Although Best Value's fate remained uncertain, Howard Knight, head of Labour's local government unit, said this week it may still be included. 'Nothing has been confirmed,' said Mr Knight. He added 'it would be surprising' if the Queen's speech did not have 'significant' areas of interest for local government, although he could not elaborate on what these might be. Two bills could be included, one on political management and ethics and a second, which would include Best Value and revisions to the capping rules.

Mr Knight said that any bill would demonstrate evidence of 'joined-up thinking' from the government as it will include input from other ministries such as the Home Office.

One theory mooted this week is that the government could introduce legislation later on in the parliamentary session, as it has the freedom to introduce other measures not outlined in the Queen's speech.

Another is that comprehensive primary legislation for Best Value may not be required. The argument runs that general Best Value practices will only be adopted once more councils get involved. Therefore legislation that is too prescriptive could hinder the implementation of Best Value.


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