Best Value in Local Government: Next Steps
UNISON Scotland Response
See consultation document at
1. UNISON Scotland very much welcomes the opportunity to respond
to this important set of proposals by the Scottish Executive.
We are Scotland's largest trade union representing over 80,000
directly employed local government employees. In addition many
thousands of our members are employed by joint boards, the voluntary
sector and organisations with links to local government.
2. UNISON Scotland is pleased that the Executive has accepted
in principle all the recommendations of the Task Force. We particularly
welcome the explicit commitment to repeal the existing CCT legislation,
which has been divisive and damaging.
3. UNISON Scotland applauds the commitment in Paragraph 8 of
the document to recognise staff and trade unions as important
stakeholders in the best value process, and we welcome the encouragement
to Scottish Councils to engage fully with their staff and to
promote equal opportunities.
4. We note the reference to Community Planning, and accept
that Best Value solutions will emerge from a process which involves
all stakeholders, including service users and trade unions.
We welcome the emphasis on social inclusion and believe this
must take into account the standard of the local environment,
economy, participation that local people have in the decision
making process when it comes to prioritising the agenda. In
Environment, ranging from al aspects of the area. Standard
of open spaces (parks etc), street maintenance, cleanliness
of the area and facilities that the local people have access
Economy, sustainability of all aspects of the local area for
future years to come not just short-term budget savings with
no real sustainability. Ensuring that future generations have
access to high quality training and apprenticeships etc. Recognising
that secure employment also encourages further development with
a settled community.
Participation, any body that is formed as part of best value
must remain accountable to all local people through recognised
formulae of democracy.
5. We believe that the development of three-year budgeting,
as outlined in paragraph 13 of the document, is crucial to the
successful implementation of Best value. Not only does it allow
Councils to plan realistically, it is a measure of the increasing
trust between the Executive and Scotland's Councils and as such
is welcomed. We believe that Councils must have scope to reach
local solutions to local problems, and to budget for this over
a realistic time period. UNISON Scotland does not believe that
local authorities and their staff can be continue to be forced
into self financing best value through prolonged cuts in budgets.
The figure of 2% savings built into best value cannot be sustained
by authorities already starved of decent funding. In order to
implement continuous improvements the council may have to spend
to save. Best value shouldn't be seen by either staff, trade
unions or indeed the authority as mere cost cutting exercises.
6. UNISON Scotland is, however, disappointed at the assertion
in paragraph 18 that the most vital element of best value is
the Reporting Framework. Clearly, transparency and accountability
are important, but we believe that the real benefits of Best
Value lie in culture change, in empowerment of staff, in achieving
synergies and in finding innovative solutions to difficult problems.
None of these is easily measurable, and we are disappointed
that the Executive focuses on quantitative rather than qualitative
data as the measure of Best Value.
7 In Paragraph 28, the Executive invites views on the nature
and content of the Best Value duty to replace the existing section
122A VFM duty. UNISON Scotland believes that the concept of
customer-focused continuous improvement, developed in line with
the views of all stakeholders, adequately describes the process
of Best Value. However, we also wish to emphasise the qualitative
and cultural aspects of the process (see Para 6, above) and
believe there should be further consultation to ensure that
this aspect of Best Value becomes part of the statutory duty
which replaces the narrow VFM definition. We also believe the
process should take into account the staff and resources necessary
to provide the services.
8 In Paragraph 31, the Executive puts forward two options for
the appropriate forum for agreeing future guidance. UNISON Scotland
strongly favours using the Local Government Forum, consisting
of COSLA, STUC and SE. We are, however, firmly of the view that
guidance should be just that: Best Value does not lend itself
to centralised instruction and control.
9 In Paragraph 35, the Executive asks for views on the desirability
of a common framework underpinning Best Value across the public
sector in Scotland, and whether that might require a statutory
base. A key issue here is identifying what is meant by the public
sector. UNISON Scotland believes that this is an opportunity
to bring key public services back into the local government
family' by extending the Best Value duty to Joint Boards,
Water Authorities, careers companies, leisure trusts, further
education colleges and all the other sectors which have been
separated from Councils over the years. We strongly support
the inclusion of these bodies in any legislation which underpins
Best Value in Scotland. We would support a common framework
as this would allow for agreed conditions to apply across all
Councils, and would reduce the power of Councils who wished
to interpret best value to suit themselves.
10 In Paragraph 37 the Executive proposes to amend the existing
duties of the Accounts Commission to have regard to a new duty
of Best Value. We consider this is a sensible step if the Accounts
Commission is to continue to collect and publish data on councils'
performances and welcome it, providing great care is taken with
the actual definition of Best Value (see Para 7, above). However,
UNISON Scotland supports establishing a Scottish Quality Commission
with the remit of pro-mot-ing good prac-tice and a range of
recognised standard assess-ments and measures, taking into account
the complexity of services provided and the need for quality.
A Scot-tish Quality Commission should be accountable to the
Scot-tish Parlia-ment but should not be part of a re-focused
Accounts Com-mis-sion. The Accounts Com-mission has historically
placed emphasis on value for money being determined by the lowest
cost, rather than on quality criteria. A Scot-tish Quality Commission
should have the responsibility for highlight-ing and spread-ing
good practice. It should also advise and assist Coun-cils who
are delivering poor per-formance and should monitor prog-ress
towards putting things right. In cir-cum-stances where a Council
continues to provide an inadequate ser-vice, then the ulti-mate
sanction against the Council should be at the ballot box.
11 In paragraph 38 reference is made to Public Performance
Reporting. We entirely agree that the public, as the service
users, should have access to how the services are provided.
However we have concerns about the methods currently used to
obtain that information, both the Statutory Indicators, which
we see as flawed because they only seek very specific information
on a service, rather than the overall service provision, and
the way in which the public have been engaged to respond through
Citizen's Panels, etc.
12 In Paragraph 40, the Executive invites views on whether
the Joint Scrutiny Forum should continue, or whether a more
formalised approach would be better. We are inclined to oppose
any unnecessary formalisation, and believe the existing arrangements
13 In Paragraph 43, the Executive invites views on the formulation
of suitable intervention powers. UNISON Scotland is firmly of
the views that powers of intervention should be a last resort.
In the past, powers of intervention have, in our view, been
used mischievously and maliciously and often applied on a party
political basis. The advent of three-year budgeting indicates
an increasing bond of trust between the Executive and Councils,
but this could be negated by an insistence on general powers
of intervention. We believe that the Executive should recognise
the commitment to improvement demonstrated by Scotland's Councils
and should not formulate any intervention powers at this time.
14 On a similar theme, Paragraph 46 asks for views on what
might trigger intervention and what might be appropriate sanctions
for dealing with poor performance. UNISON Scotland believes
that the best sanction is a revitalised democracy which will
hold under-performing Councils accountable for their actions.
Thus the sanction is through the ballot box.
15 In Paragraphs 53 and 54, the Executive asks for views on
criteria and mechanisms to replace CCT. UNISON Scotland believes
that Best Value should be driven by innovation and quality,
and that issues highlighted here, such as the transparency of
tendering and the application of TUPE, should be part of the
remit of the Best Value Advisory Body which will replace the
Joint Forum. We do not see any part of the existing CCT legislation
which should remain on the Statute Book, and would welcome the
repel of Part III of the 1980 Act and Part I of the 1980 Act.
UNISON Scotland does not agree with the statements made in paragraphs
50, 51, 42 and 53 that competition should be the central element
of service delivery - best service should be the essential element.
By reducing all factors to that of competition, the Scottish
Executive risks ensuring that crude financial criteria are top
of the agenda for service provision
16 Paragraphs 55 to 57 deal with extending Council's freedom
to trade. UNISON Scotland very much welcomes the inclusion of
workforce matters and equality issues in Part II of the 1988
Act, and also supports the concept of a General Power of Competence,
which is being consulted on separately. The Executive specifically
asks whether the list of public bodies described in the 1978
Order needs to be updated, or whether a more generic approach
finds favour. We support the latter proposal, and believe the
best way forward lies in an approach which takes account of
the objective of the intended trading rather than the status
of the trading partner.
17 Paragraph 59 introduces a new concept: the need for Councils
to redistribute a given percentage of resources through Best
Value. We are opposed to this kind of mechanistic approach to
Best Value, and believe this will create financial imperatives
which will undermine the spirit of co-operation and innovation
that increasingly characterises Scotland's Councils. Such a
requirement takes no account of cultural change. To us, it smacks
of the detested Rate of Return, which has stifled initiative
during the CCT era, and we do not want to see that kind of measure
applied as part of Best Value.
18 Paragraph 60 seeks views on how best to deliver continuous
improvement. UNISON Scotland agrees that councils must strive
to improve. However, we do not see this improvement merely in
terms of money saved. We seek improvements in terms of staff
development, training provision, health and safety provision,
family friendly policies, close adherence to legislation on
discrimination, improvement in facilities for disabled service
users, and social inclusion at all levels of service provision.
UNISON SCOTTISH SECRETARY