LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN SCOTLAND ACT 2003
Elected Member Leadership in Best Value Advisory Note
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COSLA has produced this advice note on behalf of the Best Value Task Force to help elected members with their roles, responsibilities and duties in relation to the duty of Best Value and to provide an elected members' commentary on the statutory framework (see Annex A). Elected members have a key role to play to ensure their council meets each of the ten core Best Value characteristics that form the basis of the framework. Therefore this advisory note sits alongside and follows the structure of the Scottish Executive's statutory guidance. It should also complement any guidance issued by individual councils.
For councillors who already have a firm grasp of, and are involved in, their Council's Best Value policy and procedures this advice note provides a useful check list or reference point against which to judge how the council is meeting its obligations under the 2003 Act and its guidance. For councillors who are relatively new to Best Value this advice note provides a starting point for understanding their duties and responsibilities.
Councillors have a role to ensure that their council fulfils its statutory responsibilities but they also have to fulfil individual responsibilities.
Best Value as an approach has been in place, albeit on a 'voluntary' basis, since 1997. Councils, and elected members in particular, have developed considerable expertise and experience on Best Value. Elected members in many councils have been closely involved in the development of Best Value in their Council both at a strategic and service level. In addition, as local government has been increasingly subject to external scrutiny and accountability, there is also a high level of awareness of fundamental issues such as leadership, scrutiny and accountability - key elements of Best Value.
The Local Government in Scotland Act 2003 makes Best Value a statutory duty by placing on councils a duty to make arrangements to secure continuous improvement in performance. The Scottish Executive has issued statutory guidance on the arrangements that councils should put in place to support Best Value. Further guidance produced by the Best Value Task Force and published by the Scottish Executive alongside the statutory guidance refers specifically to the role of elected members on around 20 occasions.
There are a growing number of examples of 'good practice' involving elected members in all aspects of Best Value. However, elected member experience or involvement in Best Value will vary from council to council. Although most, if not all, councils provide training for members on Best Value, almost 50% of councillors who responded to the COSLA/Scottish Executive 2003 Councillors' Survey stated that they have only some, little or no understanding of Best Value. A core role of the new Improvement Service for local government and partners is to share good practice and should be a valuable resource for elected members.
A key feature of the 2003 Act and the associated guidance is the close relationship between Best Value and Community Planning and the Power to Advance Well-being. Whilst this advisory note concentrates on Best Value it is relevant also to the roles and responsibilities that elected members have in respect of the new duty of Community Planning and the Power to Advance Well-being. (For a summary of the Act, see COSLA's Guide to the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003 - www.cosla.gov.uk .)
ELECTED MEMBERS - YOUR ROLE IN BEST VALUE
Commitment and Leadership
The most important role for elected members is to provide the commitment and leadership required to drive Best Value forward.
You must be involved in setting the strategic direction for Best Value by agreeing and taking ownership of the Best Value process within your authority. This should outline how the key elements of Best Value will contribute to meeting the continuous improvement in services, which will be required to meet your council's vision and expectations.
You should ensure that your council's approach to Best Value is reflected clearly in all mission statements, strategies, and plans at a corporate and service level. These in turn should help to integrate priorities identified through Community Planning and show clearly how the council is working with partner organisations to provide services that meet community needs at council and local community levels.
The setting of priorities and assessment of performance against relevant targets must be undertaken transparently so that communities can understand, comment on and influence the process and decision-making. This will contribute to ensuring that you are accountable to your electorate and that the council is accountable to its communities.
Councils will be expected to demonstrate political ownership of material submitted by the council to Audit Scotland during its Best Value Audit. Each council will have to decide how, at what level and when its submission to the Best Value Audit is given political approval.
Responsiveness and Consultation
Elected members have a unique role in providing a focus for community engagement and empowering local communities. Best Value gives you the opportunity to develop and fulfil your role as champions of your local community.
Meeting the needs of various stakeholders in the community is a difficult balancing act and you are well placed to meet this challenge.
You can ensure that the council is responsive to the needs of its communities, citizens, customers, employees and other stakeholders. You must ensure that the council recognises the diversity and diverse needs of its communities; and that the council's plans, priorities and actions are informed by an understanding of these needs.
You also have an important role to play to oversee and contribute to the necessary ongoing dialogue with other public sector partners and the local business, voluntary and community sectors. Constructive engagement with the whole range of stakeholders must be open, fair and inclusive. The public should have access to the information they need and want about council performance.
Elected members should be at the heart of the decision-making process in their council.
This means that you should determine and agree the shared vision which provides the framework for planning and budgeting at both corporate and service delivery levels; ensuring these respond to the needs of local communities and help to achieve the council's goals.
Influencing political priorities and setting standards against which performance improvement can be measured are crucial tasks for elected members. You should be satisfied that effective performance management and reporting systems are in place (e.g. Scrutiny Panels) through which performance issues can be identified, monitored and addressed.
Performance in all areas of activity should be systematically measured and reported to elected members. You should ensure that performance reports are relevant and clearly show whether strategic and operational objectives and targets are being met. Reports should include information which allows you to make informed decisions about how to improve performance.
Sound Management of Resources
A fundamental aim of Best Value is to assist councils to make the best use of their resources - including employees, financial resources, ICT and other systems, land and property and contractual arrangements - "keeping a considered and appropriate balance between cost, quality and price".
Elected members have ultimate responsibility for making sure that appropriate policies and processes are in place to ensure the council's resources are used efficiently and effectively, the council's procurement process and contracts comply with all legal obligations and that sound financial stewardship is maintained.
You have to be aware, particularly at budget time, of the risks that might be facing the council (e.g. in relation to health and safety and child protection matters), and base your budget decisions on sound judgement and mature consideration of all factors.
Whilst you should not be involved in operational day-to-day decisions about these matters and the use of resources you must ensure that there are processes in place to allow you to regularly review the management of resources across all services and across the council as a whole. Also you must be sure that you have the opportunity to review budget statements and approve spending decisions as a result of Best Value reviews and option appraisals, in order to make the strategic decisions that may be required to alter policies or to re-prioritise the use of resources.
Review and Options Appraisal (Scrutiny)
The review and options appraisal aspect of Best Value should be seen as part of the scrutiny process in councils to ensure that services remain competitive and that the quality of provision is maintained for the benefit of service users.
A key feature of Best Value is that no areas of work should be 'protected' from consideration for review. Reviews can encompass process based and service reviews as well as strategic reviews such as appraisal of PPP schemes and housing stock transfer schemes. Strategic or thematic reviews, possibly cutting across service departments or involving other public sector or community partners, may have a greater impact than more narrowly focussed service reviews.
Elected members should approve the overall process and policies governing the review and option appraisal process and they should be involved at key stages in the process. You will be well placed to ensure that reviews focus on achieving real improvements in service delivery for your council's communities.
You should use the review and scrutiny process to challenge service performance. The reporting of reviews and scrutiny process should enable you to question and challenge the outcomes of reviews. You should keep an 'open mind' in respect of preferred service providers and base decisions on evidence and performance.
Competitiveness and Trading
The Local Government in Scotland Act 2003 gives local authorities greater freedoms to structure services under a range of possibilities that previously were not available to them. They can form partnerships and trading relationships with other local authorities, Community Planning partners, the voluntary sector and (to a more limited extent) with the private sector.
Elected members must ensure that their council's business in any potentially competitive situation is conducted in a manner which demonstrates appropriate competitive practice and conforms to the duties and guidance relating to trading accounts and the supply of goods and services.
You can play an important part in ensuring the council is responsive to the interests of stakeholders and suppliers such as the business community and the voluntary and not for profit sectors. You must be prepared to award contracts to external providers after competition where that represents Best Value and is evidently in the interests of your communities with regards to an "appropriate balance between cost, quality and price". Staff working to provide council services must be fairly treated, whether they are employed directly by the council or by a private or voluntary sector provider.
Councils have a statutory duty under Best Value to ensure that they make a contribution to the achievement of sustainable development in all their activities.
The Best Value guidance defines sustainable development as being "development which secures a balance of social, economic and environmental well-being in the impact of activities and decisions; and which seeks to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
Elected members need to ensure that the achievement of sustainable development is reflected in the council's objectives and highlighted in all appropriate strategies and plans at corporate and service levels. You have to demonstrate a high level of commitment to achieving sustainable development and to promote an integrated approach to improving economic, social and environmental well-being. You should ensure that sustainable development is taken into account in all elements of the Best Value process.
Also you have a role to play to ensure that sustainable development is reflected in the council's inter-relationships with its Community Planning partners.
Councils are required to encourage equal opportunities when discharging their duty of Best Value. Elected members can play a significant role in promoting a culture which encourages both equal opportunities and the observance of the equal opportunities requirements.
You must ensure that equal opportunities are reflected in the council's objectives and are highlighted in all plans at corporate and service level. Also equal opportunities must be mainstreamed/
embedded within your council's Best Value framework. All elements of the Best Value process must take account of equal opportunities legislation such as the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000.
Joint Working (with other councils and public bodies)
Elected members should actively encourage opportunities for formal and informal joint working, joint use of resources and joint funding options, where this will offer scope for better services and customer focused outcomes. You should ensure procedures are in place, possibly through Community Planning, to allow the council to address impediments and barriers which might inhibit approaches to joint working with internal and external partners.
As the council's representatives on Joint Boards, other public sector agencies and community and voluntary sector organisations, elected members are well placed to facilitate joint working. You are also well placed to assist other public sector organisations embrace the principles and practices enshrined in Best Value and could also benefit from learning from the experiences of other bodies.
Elected members have a key role to play in ensuring that the council reports on its performance so that all stakeholders are told what quality of service is being delivered and what they can expect in the future.
Effective internal and external performance reporting can provide accountability and transparency. Therefore you must ensure there is a mechanism for internal scrutiny by members of performance and service outcomes. You should ensure that your council's decision-making processes are open and transparent, with council business managed in a manner that supports accountability.
Ultimately you are responsible and accountable to the electorate for the overall performance of the council.
"Best Value must be led politically by elected members; it needs clear political direction and the staff need to see this. All members will need to understand, own and promote Best Value in their work to make the council a Best Value authority. Best Value may also require new roles for members and above all, for members to act as champions of the public's interests - true representatives." (Geoffrey Filkin; November 1997; LGIU, Political Leadership of Best Value.)
Although this quote was written within the context of the English approach to Best Value it still clearly summaries the key issues that elected members in Scotland should bear in mind with regards to their role in Best Value - political leadership, ownership and understanding of the process and community leadership.
- All elected members have a duty not only to ensure that their council is fulfilling all its duties under the legislation and accompanying guidance but also that they fulfil their roles and responsibilities as identified in the statutory guidance. Every councillor should support their council's objective to strive towards continuous improvement through the Best Value framework as detailed in the statutory guidance and any formal policy adopted by their council.
- Elected member leadership in Best Value should not be restricted to Council Leaders, Executive members or Chairs/Convenors of committees, but should include a role for all elected members. Only by providing political leadership in the process can they ensure that Best Value is driven politically from the heart of the council. As community leaders elected members have a key role to play to ensure that Best Value provides real benefits for the communities they represent and serve.
- All elected members are responsible to their communities and will be held accountable by their electorate. However, the Accounts Commission also has a role to play as an independent scrutineer of how councils and their elected members respond to and fulfil their Best Value statutory duty. The new Best Value Audit, which is being rolled out to all councils over the next three years by Audit Scotland, will examine the role that you play in this respect.
- Elected members must ensure that Best Value is a process that helps their council translate its goals into reality; therefore leadership, ownership and understanding of the Best Value process in their council is crucial. Best Value can assist elected members to make key decisions on which priorities the council should fund and how scarce resources will be spent. It can also assist in ensuring that sustainable development and equal opportunities are mainstreamed into all elements of policy planning and service delivery.
BEST VALUE FRAMEWORK
The Local Government in Scotland Act 2003 places specific duties on councils by which they are expected to demonstrate fulfilment of the statutory duties which make up the Best Value 'regime' provided. These statutory duties are:
- the duty of Best Value, being to make arrangements to secure continuous improvement in performance (while maintaining an appropriate balance between quality and cost); and in making those arrangements and securing that balance, to have regard to economy, efficiency, effectiveness, the equal opportunities requirements and to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development;
- the duty to achieve break-even in trading accounts subject to mandatory disclosure;
- the duty to observe proper accounting practices;
- the duty to make arrangements for the reporting to the public of the outcome of the performance of functions.
An authority which secures Best Value will be able to demonstrate commitment to ten core characteristics:
- Commitment and Leadership
- Responsiveness and Consultation
- Sound Governance at a Strategic, Financial and Operational Level
- Sound Management of Resources
- Use of Review and Options Appraisal
- Competitiveness, Trading and the Discharge of Authority Functions
- Sustainable Development
- Equal Opportunities Arrangements
- Joint Working