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Best Value in action: Norfolk

Norfolk County Council spends more than £12M a year on routine highway maintenance, and will be doing its Best Value performance review during the first year. Sam Ralph, head of engineering, says: 'We're tackling it early on because it represents quite a large expenditure out of our total budget.'

His department has formed a highway maintenance partnership with consultant Mott MacDonald, contractor May Gurney and the direct labour organisation. 'The strategic management team is there to give a strategic thrust to how the service is going, ' says Ralph. 'It needs time to evolve, but we hope the private sector can give us a sharp focus on business.'

The DLO brought May Gurney in to sharpen up business practices ahead of tenders going out last year for the next five year term maintenance contract. 'There was a wish in the county council to retain in-house services provided they were competitive, ' explains Ralph. 'It was thought the best way to enhance that competitive edge would be by bringing in a private sector partner.'

The county is currently establishing performance indicators ahead of this year's review, and has just been given a clean bill of health by the district auditor for the processes it has established so far.

Ralph says he has 'always been a great believer in comparisons', and is setting up a clear strategic approach to benchmarking both within the county and with other authorities in the region.

Different organisational models are being trialled across the six districts that make up the county, including an open book single team approach with client, contractor, designer and DLO all working together.

Ralph is keen to achieve a strong interaction with the public to ensure they get best value. 'The industry can be quite selfish, ' he says. 'But it's not about self interest - it's about what's best for the community.'

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