Staff can benefit from best value

Burnham believes Best Value offers staff opportunities to drive forward
improvements in social services.

Value has not become the driving force for improvements in public services that
the government had hoped for. There is still outright suspicion among many
local authority staff about Best Value’s purpose. As project manager for a Best
Value review last year, I was nervous about the purpose, process and likely
outcome. Having completed the task I believe there are many benefits that can
accrue from reviews if approached in a positive spirit.

The strength of Best Value is in the process
demanded of reviews. It makes you look at your service from a different angle.
Ask anyone what they think of your service and they will often give you a
devastating critique that would never have occurred to you or professional
colleagues. Best Value reviews are also opportunities for staff to "talk
out of turn".

The real beauty of Best Value is that reviews
are self-directed. The process is fundamentally different from a Social
Services Inspectorate or an Ofsted inspection. There is no need for briefings
from managers telling staff what should and should not be said to inspectors.
Social services staff have a head start with the review process. Personal
supervision, external inspections and consultation with service users are
second nature.

Key areas to monitor are: improvement against
the performance assessment framework, local political or business imperatives,
user satisfaction, cost efficiency and staff acceptance.

Involve staff and keep telling them what’s
happening and trail any possible changes so people are aware of what might
happen as a result. This approach is potentially a huge morale booster. Build
things in for next year – especially opportunities for staff to give their
views about things that need changing. Don’t treat the review as a one-off

Make allies in other authorities. We visited
15 other authorities and it was heartening to realise that we all seemed to
struggle with the same issues, for example a slow-starting direct payments
scheme. Why hadn’t the SSI told us that this was the norm rather than the

After all this I’m still not convinced that
regular "step changes" are likely to occur, but constant effort to
find better ways to serve the public is a key responsibility we all share. The
Best Value process is one of the most profitable ways of helping us fulfil that

Dave Burnham is Preston district manager, Lancashire social services

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