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CCT demise raises hopes for fairer system

News

ALTHOUGH, in theory, CCT governed the way councils did business until 2 January, in practice it had been on the wane since Tony Blair came to power.

The amount of blue and white-collar work put out to tender has halved since the 1997 general election, as a survey carried out last year by Local Government Chronicle revealed.

In 1996-97, 3,500 local government tenders were advertised across a range of key advertising vehicles. But the number of tenders was projected to be less than 1,400 for 1999-2000.

Accompanying this decline has been a great deal of uncertainty. But with the Best Value regime about to come into effect, it is hoped some of the confusion will disappear.

Matthew Warburton, head of strategy at the Local Government Association, explains: 'The big difference between Best Value and CCT is the philosophy of continuous improvement. The idea is that authorities will be judged by their ability to do things better and not by their ability to jump through a series of hoops.'

But Bob Clarke, managing director of Babtie Group, which has about 1,000 people working on technical and management consultancy work for local authorities, points out that although CCT's demise has been clear since the general election, there are still questions.

'It's early days and we all have a lot to learn,' says Clarke. 'One of the things none of us know for sure yet is how the inspection regime is going to work. Rather than concentration on letting of the contract, a large part of the Best Value process will be more about looking at the outcomes.'

Patrick Godfrey, director of business solutions and champion for partnering at Halcrow, also plans to proceed with care. 'The concept of Best Value is one where there is no single system that can be applied, or should be applied, to different customers and different projects,' he says.

Amid the confusion, the ICE has produced a practical guide to Best Value in the built environment. Its author is past president David Green, chair of ICE's Best Value task force.

'My view is that the private sector feels that procurement is going to be fairer because local authorities now have to engage with the market,' he says. 'In other words, not asking what the market can do for you but what you can do for the market.

'I think contractors and consultants will gradually adjust to those regimes. Best Value has overcome some of the antagonism that CCT had,' says Green. 'For councils, many will find Best Value even more demanding than CCT was. But because they have a bit more flexibility, they are a bit happier about it.'

However, Green warns: 'The private sector has got to be aware of the opportunities and be prepared to change just as much as the local authorities.'

Lewis Williamson writes for Local Government Chronical.

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