It must be pretty frustrating being a local authority engineer, or supplier for that matter, now they are being exhorted to take on the concept of Best Value.
Most engineers in the sector have been doing a reasonable job of matching demand with budgets that have declined as much as 30% over five years, and would probably feel they have been providing best value all that time.
And for at least the last 10 years many have been arguing that lowest price, compulsory competitive tendering is the least productive way for them to to carry out their work. Now the Government too has realised this, and is presenting its discovery to the very people who have been urging a change of tack as a revelation. Irritating indeed.
But on the plus side, the introduction of Best Value is a defining moment for the local government sector. Not because, after years of doing it wrongly, they are going to be taught to do it correctly by adopting private sector ideas like partnering and long term framework contracts. But because this is local government's chance to demonstrate that actually it is as good if not better than anyone at procuring and delivering construction and maintenance works.
Public accountability demands checks to ensure Best Value initiatives are actually producing best value. If the measure of lowest price is out of favour, authorities and their alliance partners must show they are continuously improving their performance in terms of cost, efficiency and effectiveness.
So local government, like the private sector, is setting itself targets, measuring its delivery against those targets and putting in place performance indicators for assessing the quality of work provided by its suppliers, and its own engineers.
But unlike the private sector, those targets and measures are to be independently audited by the Audit Commission, and the results - good and bad - will be published regularly. The expectation is that at some point there will be league tables highlighting which authorities are best at, say, road maintenance - setting benchmarks for others to attain.
The private sector, of course, is making its own efforts to pinpoint best practice via the results of Movement for Innovation demonstration projects.
But these are self policing - with successes trumpeted and difficulties swept under the carpet.
Best Value audits will provide a warts and all view of the efficiency of local government. If you are good everyone will know it - from an independent source.
What better badge of achievement? And if you are an individual engineer or a contractor, consultant or supplier working in the sector, what better way of showing off your quality of work?
Who is to say that in future the local authority Best Value experience will not be the accepted measure of efficiency and best practice in the private as well as the public sector? And that blue chip clients will be looking to employ, as first preference, companies and personnel who can demonstrate they have succeeded in the demanding atmosphere of the public sector?
And won't that be a turn up for the books?
Jackie Whitelaw is managing editor of NCE