HC Deb 11 January 2000 vol 342 cc130-1
3. Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth)

If he will make a statement about the progress being made by local authorities in developing best value. [103253]

The Minister for Local Government and the Regions (Ms Hilary Armstrong)

Good progress is being made to meet the target date of 1 April 2000. The statutory framework for best value, including guidance and the new national performance indicators, is almost complete, and we are working closely with the Audit Commission and the Local Government Association to ensure that all authorities are up to date in their preparations.

Mr. Jenkins

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. However, will she join me in congratulating many of the smaller local authorities—such as Tamworth borough council—which have for years delivered excellent and improving services while increasing council tax by less than the rate of inflation? Tamworth has been able to do that by stripping out layers of management. Will my hon. Friend not only give a guarantee that small authorities will not be encumbered by any more bureaucracy, but consider using a light touch in administering the policy? May I also have an assurance that small authorities—which, unlike large authorities, are not able to take advantage of economies of scale—will not be faced with a financial burden that they will have to pass on to local council tax payers?

Ms Armstrong

My hon. Friend is to be congratulated on the work that he did as leader of Tamworth council, to ensure that that council was efficient and worked effectively for local people—which, he will appreciate, is the main task of local authorities. Local authorities have not only to work effectively, but to meet local people's aspirations and demands, and the reality is that best value gives local authorities much more flexibility. As the pilots have demonstrated, the best value regime brings palpable improvements.

Several of the pilot authorities are small authorities. I assure my hon. Friend that they are not complaining about bureaucracy, but are saying that best value gives them new opportunities. However, they are also saying that best value requires the involvement of everyone—members and officers—in ensuring that the new approach delivers the very best value to citizens.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

The Minister will know that last March the Prime Minister indicated that too many Labour councils were failing to deliver good value services to their citizens. Why is it that, under the Government's proposals for the best value programme, councils do not have a general requirement to consider tendering?

Ms Armstrong

The hon. and learned Gentleman has perhaps been asleep during our discussions in the House. The legislation made it absolutely clear that the Government—and now the House—do not take an ideological approach. We say that councils have to find the best way forward, whether that involves using an in-house service, a partnership, the voluntary sector or a private sector company. We are looking for the best for the citizen and no single organisation necessarily produces that. So far from Whitehall saying, "We know best," we are saying, "You have a duty locally to deliver the best."

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

Why is best value better than compulsory competitive tendering?

Ms Armstrong

It is better precisely because, as has been demonstrated already by the pilot studies, it responds effectively to the aims and aspirations of local people and seeks to get the best quality at the most efficient price. It does not represent an ideological approach, which was all that CCT was about.