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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 09/07/2002
Year 3 (2002/03) Review of Best Value Scoping Report



Annexe 1
YEAR 3 (2002/03) REVIEW OF BEST VALUE
SCOPING REPORT

Introduction

Best value processes have been in effect since 1 April 2000 and the Council is now in its third year of best value reviews. Much has been learned in the first two years. Both Members and officers agree that best value service reviews, and the demand they place on Member, officer and financial resources in 2002/03 should be as streamlined as possible.

Fundamental service review is, by definition, a process of challenge, evidence gathering and analysis and must involve Members. However, the Council’s auditors accept that the inputs should be proportionate to the risk involved and potential outcomes. On this basis, the review process in 2001/02 (Year 2) was streamlined to manage down cost and incorporate a lighter touch. The process was refined again for 2002/03 to further simplify the process and encourage Member participation.

Best value reviews are only part of the Council’s performance management framework. Continuous improvement at the service level is also achieved through ongoing monitoring and reporting of performance against local priorities and Best Value Performance Indicators. This is assuming new significance due to Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA), which, in 2003, will see the Council categorised on the evidence of its performance and capacity to improve.

Best Value reviews – revocation of the ‘five year rule’

Statutory Instrument 2002/305 removes the requirement for authorities to review all of their functions. The aim is to promote more thematic reviews around local and national priorities, from a customer as well as a provider perspective, without being concerned about including every small service.

This has important implications for extending the Council’s ‘light touch’ approach. The Council must still plan reviews, which remain a legal requirement of the 1999 Act. However, this best value review is a timely opportunity to review the process by which the Council selects services for review.

The Scope of the Fundamental Service Review of Best Value

Taking the above into consideration, the scope of the review will cover:
q The approach to selecting services for review
q The best value FSR process, from scoping reports to reporting of outcomes, including consultation and Member involvement; and
q Performance management.

The Link with the review of Personnel and Training Services

Personnel Services is also subject to review in 2002/03. Whereas best value is about having effective systems to support the organisation, Personnel is about having effective systems to support individuals within the organisation. A common thread between the two is the part that the Council’s appraisal system plays in performance management and vice versa with regard to Investors in People. The District Auditor recommended on the connection when the 2001/02 Performance Plan was audited and this review will take it into close consideration.

Where Are We Now?

The feedback from Year 2 service reviews, when compared to comments from those who were involved in Year 1, indicates that the reviews were generally more focused and streamlined. Year 2 reviews took less staff time, cost less and focused review activity where change will have the most impact.

During 2001/02, the Citizens’ Panel became functional and has provided useful feedback for best value service reviews. This enabled public consultation to be done quickly and easily, and helped reduce the cost of best value-related consultation in 2001/02 by about 33% on the original estimate.

The Council received an unqualified opinion when its corporate planning and performance management arrangements were tested during the audit of the 2000/01 Performance Plan. The Council received a second unqualified opinion on the 2001/02 Performance Plan, although District Audit recommended that there is scope to improve aspects of the management and reporting of performance. In response, an officer group (the ‘Improving Performance Group’), was established by Management Board in June 2001 to work on the auditor’s recommendations.

Feedback from staff during the Year 2 review of communications raised a few issues regarding staff morale and organisational effectiveness. A benefit of best value, particularly noted at managerial level, is improved communication.

What do we know from earlier inspections?

As part of the inspection process, Inspectors consider the quality of the reviews. Inspectors have made positive comments on the Council’s commitment to the best value process and on the arrangements for establishing corporate priorities and for reviewing services. Favourable comments include, for example, that consistent and clear aims have been established for services and that corporate priorities are reflected in service plans. Further, the Inspectors have commented that Waverley’s reviews are thorough, well managed and deal well with consultation.

Pointing to where improvement can be made, Inspectors have commented that reviews have focussed on convenient rather than challenging comparisons, that they could be more challenging and that consideration of competition was weak. Inspection reports emphasise, however, that the Council had successfully identified many of the weaknesses that Inspectors subsequently found.

In the three services inspected to date, the inspectors have highlighted weaknesses in information management and performance monitoring. This will have significant implications when the Council is tested by the Comprehensive Performance Assessment.

Financial and Staff Resources

For 2002/03, the budget book includes the following estimates for best value:

Implementing Best Value 10,000
Service reviews 60,000
Market research and consultation 50,000
Publishing the Best Value Performance Plan 25,000
External audit fees 46,500
Total 191,500

The review will draw out the costs of best value, in particular the fundamental service review process, in more detail. It will also make detailed comparisons with other authorities and over time. This will show that the costs have reduced, and are expected to reduce further, and that the budget for best value has been cut in line with the Council’s ‘light touch’ approach.

The functions covered by this review fall within the work of the Chief Executive’s Support Unit. The following staff have a specific role in relation to best value and corporate management:

The Assistant Chief Executive
The Corporate Best Value Officer
The Executive Assistant to the Chief Executive

Service Review Group

The Service Review Group (SRG) will work with the cross-departmental ‘Improving Performance Group’ (IPG). The IPG will function as an independent reference group of senior managers. The SRG will comprise:

Anne Bott - Assistant Chief Executive
David Fannin - Corporate Best Value Officer
Sue Petzold - Executive Assistant to the Chief Executive
Margaret Wright - Housing Policy and Research Officer
Louise Goodfellow - Finance Research Officer (and Chair of the Improving


Mark Hill, the Internal Audit Manager, will advise the Service Review Group as and when appropriate.

The Review Process

The purpose of this review is to diagnose problems, identify opportunities and come up with options for how the best value process and performance management in Waverley Borough Council can be improved. Three of the four Cs (consultation, comparison and competition) can be seen as tools to help in the process. The fourth ‘C’ (challenge) should ensure that big policy questions are addressed early on.

Challenge

Best value reviews remain a statutory requirement. Challenge will therefore focus on how we do them rather than why. Members have a crucial role, not least in determining the scope of the review and the key issues. Challenge will also come from the issues raised by the review team, from the IPG, from those who are consulted. The review will begin with a few key questions:

q Do Members, managers and the public have the performance information they need or want?
q Is effort being directed to poorer performing areas and/or areas of most significance to local people?
q Does the Council’s service review process result in more efficient, cost-effective and/or better quality services?
q Can the cost of best value service reviews and the officer time involved be further streamlined?
q How do Waverley’s service review and performance management arrangements compare with best practice?

In addition, the Audit Commission has indicated that CPA teams will test the following ‘building blocks’ when assessing the Council’s capacity to improve. These building blocks will be the basis for further challenge questions:

q Ownership of problems and willingness to change
q A sustained focus on what matters
q The capacity and systems to deliver performance and improvement
q Integration of Best Value into day to day management

Compare

The review will use existing benchmarking networks and the District Audit Service to develop comparisons and seek best practice. This will be supported by desktop research for best practice in local government journals and other management literature. There are no quantitative national or local performance indicators for best value functions although the Audit Commission Library of Performance Indicators is a potential source.

Consult

Appropriate consultation methods have been devised for consulting those with an interest in service reviews and their outcomes. The key stakeholders (and proposed consultation methods) are listed below. In this case Members have a key interest in both the process and outcomes of reviews. Exceptionally therefore they are identified below in the list of key stakeholders and consultees.

Members: Stage 3 consultations – format to be settled – Overview and Scrutiny views invited

Businesses: Face-to-face and telephone interviews with Business Forum

The public: Citizens’ Panel

Officers: At all levels, using Lotus Notes questionnaire and discussion groups

Partners: e.g. Surrey County Council in a discussion group and a sample of stakeholders from earlier best value reviews by telephone

District Audit: One-to-one discussion

Compete

Specialist services for consultation are already procured by competitive tender from external suppliers, i.e. consultants. Other aspects of competition are limited since this review is about streamlining a review process rather than improving a front-line or support service. However, it is possible that reviews could be conducted by peers or using management consultants and these possibilities will be explored.



Timetable

In accordance with the flow diagram attached, information gathering will take place from May to September, so that conclusions are being formed and discussed by Members by October/November 2002. The review will be completed by the end of February 2003 with reports to the Executive Committee and Council in March 2003. The review is split into two key phases.

Phase 1 (planning and information gathering) will include:-

q Establishing Members’ views about the services;
q Consultation, information gathering and benchmarking
q Mapping existing practices and procedures;
q Testing strengths and weaknesses using the Excellence Model and other means;

Phase 2 (analysis and reporting) will include:-

q Analysing the findings;
q Identifying options for change;
q Consulting on options for change, as necessary;
q Preparing the final report, recommendations and improvement plan.

Resources Needed for the Review

The evaluation of best value is a function of the Corporate Support Unit, which will lead the review. The resources to undertake this review will be found from within the Best Value budget provision for 2002/03.

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