No favours on Best Value

2 Mar 00
Councils should expect no favours from Audit Commission inspectors in the first year of Best Value, town hall managers were told last week.

03 March 2000

Local authorities face a steep learning curve as they get to grips with the initiative, which begins in April. But any hopes that inspectors will make allowances in the first year for councils' unfamiliarity with the regime have been firmly quashed.

Speaking to a CIPFA Quality Forum conference in Manchester on February 25, Peter Thomas, associate director of the Audit Commission, promised that inspectors would start work immediately. 'We wouldn't be doing any favours by being all soft and cuddly with authorities,' he said.

Thomas, one of the senior managers responsible for inspection at the commission, said the whole point of Best Value was to improve services, and that demanded honest appraisals from the start. 'We need to be consistent straight away,' he said.

The commission's tough stance follows its publication last week of details of how the inspection regime will work. With some councils already viewing the process as crude and over-bureaucratic, the comments are unlikely to ease town hall nerves.

Despite the commission's 'no favours' approach, Thomas recommended councils ask for an early inspection, claiming this offered an opportunity to 'get ahead of the game'.

Once Best Value is bedded in, inspections will be automatically triggered by councils' review programmes. Initially, inspectors will concentrate on reviews undertaken voluntarily in the past two years, as long as details are included in councils' first Best Value performance plans, which are to be issued on March 31.

Thomas also hinted that the commission would take a dim view of councils conducting large numbers of service reviews in any one year.

Although he said he had 'no problem' with councils doing around 20 reviews in a year, the commission views ten to 15 as the optimum number. 'If you are doing any more, can you really be opening yourself up to the challenge of Best Value?' he asked.


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