Spoke today at a conference in Edinburgh on Best Value 2, which is Scotland's new audit process for local authorities. My role was to make a comparison with the English experience of Best Value audit, although I did feel a bit of a phoney as my Motherwell accent hasn't faded that much despite living and working in England for 11 years.
This gave me a chance to reflect on Best Value's origins and I was able to talk about the 12 principles of Best Value that Hilary Armstrong announced at APSE's forerunner ADLO's annual conference in Belfast's Waterfront Hall in June 1997, only one month after the General Election. I then whizzed through the Local Government Act of 1999 which enshrined Best Value in legislation and ultimately brought about the four 'c's for reviews and the 5 'e's. CPA, Gershon and the banker's recession quickly brought me up to date.
I revisited the early CPA arguments around inspection overload, cost, weighting bias and crude labelling - comparing this with local government’s success story in its performance under CPA. And yet there was always that nagging doubt that something wasn't quite right with the framework. This was of course the fact that the framework was set by Government and the audit commission with no regard to what the public cared about and this is what brought about the dilemma of customer satisfaction falling through the floor as local performance soared against the framework.
Some of the unintended consequences of CPA were of course careers being made or broken by the scores, people playing the CPA game with resource allocation, wage inflation and limited political impact with the public.
In terms of lessons learned more corporate assessment is useful rather than service based and this needs to be proportionate to risk. Inspectorates need to be joined up in their approach and more self evaluation is vital. One of the key ingredients is of course good local performance management frameworks.
APSE's view is that independent audit and inspection is a must for public services although any world class programme should work itself to an optimum minimum level. Best Value as a concept is still as relevant today as it’s always been. Council's have made significant progress in improving performance. Self assessment is more beneficial than inspection so long as you have good robust performance data to compare with others. This also allows for the exchange of best practice and to understand best performance.