Byers to review Best Value concerns

4 Oct 01
The government successfully defused the expected row over privatisation at the annual Labour Party conference in Brighton this week with the launch of a three-month review of Best Value in local government and a pledge that health workers won't lose out u

05 October 2001

The announcements followed last-minute negotiations with the unions, with Unison agreeing to water down its conference motion in return for assurances that its concerns would be addressed.

The Best Value review, launched by Local Government Secretary Stephen Byers on October 1, appears to have taken even civil servants by surprise. A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions told Public Finance that the details were still being worked out, but the review would be led by the department. Byers will report its findings in January 2002.

The review is designed to appease the unions and address mounting concerns within local authorities. It will examine statutory guidance to ensure that it 'focuses on higher standards, not just on lowest cost' and that Best Value is 'neutral as to whether services are best provided by the public, private or voluntary sectors'.

Significantly, it will also examine union allegations of a two-tier workforce, where staff newly employed by the private sector are given worse pay and conditions than those transferred from local authorities.

Malcolm Wing, head of local government at Unison, said the union would now be assembling as much evidence as possible on workforce issues and on claims that the inspection process pushes the privatisation agenda.

'We want much more than tinkering round the edges,' Wing told Public Finance. 'We will focus on outcomes that ensure an end to the two-tier workforce and give real protection to staff.'

Wing said the union would also be lobbying for an early legislative slot for a bill on capital freedoms to allow councils to borrow money on a 'level playing field' with the private sector.

In the conference debate on public services, which turned into a cosy coffee-table chat with ministers, Health Secretary Alan Milburn said his department would be examining the effects of the PFI on the workforce.

'What we need to do, as with Stephen's review, is to ensure that cooks, porters, cleaners don't lose out as a result of PFI,' he said. 'We are hoping to come to some agreement to allow workers to stay in the health service.'


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