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Draft Guidance on the Duty to Secure Best Value

UNISON Scotland's response to Scottish Executive Draft Secondary Guidance on: The Duty on Accountable Officers to ensure arrangements are in place to secure Best Value.

October 2003

Executive Summary

  • Best Value for Public Sector Organisations (PSOs) is about quality, effective service delivery, fair employment, sustainability and equality.
  • There should be reference to the Scottish Executive's PPP Staffing Protocol in the Best Value guidance, and an acknowledgement that PSOs should work together with trade unions to achieve the characteristics of Best Value to enhance service provision.
  • The consumer approach to public services should be replaced by a focus on citizenship and quality services for all.
  • Contractors providing services for PSOs should be obliged to meet these Best Value requirements.
  • We welcome the commitment for PSOs to carry out equal pay audits, this is key to ending gender pay discrimination.
  • Reporting and accountability should be achieved through openness, democratic structures and transparency.



UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Scottish Executive's Draft Secondary Guidance on the Duty on Accountable Officers to ensure arrangements are in place to secure Best Value. UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing 150,000 members working in the public sector. Our members are employed in the NHS in Scotland, local government, Scottish Enterprise, various Scottish Non Departmental Public Bodies and Executive Agencies, and in Further and Higher Education.

UNISON has already participated in the consultations and discussions on the development and implementation of Best Value in Scottish local government. In these discussions we have continually stated that UNISON is committed to the provision of high quality public services, which are accessible and responsive to local communities. UNISON is clear that public services should be provided on an open and transparent basis, and be democratically accountable to the communities they serve. We firmly believe that services are best delivered by a directly employed, well trained and highly motivated workforce that is valued and appropriately rewarded. Our members are keen to revitalise and modernise public services. We are clear that modernisation can and should be achieved with the full involvement of staff and trade unions who have the knowledge and expertise of frontline service delivery.

This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the Draft Secondary Guidance for securing Best Value, issued by the Scottish Executive.


General Comments

UNISON supports the provisions in the Draft Guidance for high standards, effective management systems, openness and sustainability. We welcome the provision for the cross cutting themes of equal opportunities, sustainable development and joint working. However, we would like to see more emphasis on quality, effective service delivery, fair employment, in particular the elimination of the two-tiered workforce and equality, including the promotion of equal opportunities.

We believe that there should be reference to the Scottish Executive's PPP Staffing Protocol: Public Private Partnerships in Scotland - Protocol Guidance Concerning Employment Issues which was agreed with the STUC in 2002. The protocol is an important agreement setting out good employment standards that are applicable to the public sector as a whole. It covers all public service organisations, so this clearly is relevant to the same organisations as this Draft Guidance on securing Best Value, and can be developed upon in the Best Value regime. The First Minister has given a clear commitment to ending the two tier workforce as a matter of principle and this should be reflected in the guidance.

We disagree with the statement listed in point 2 in the introduction, that;

"Best Value principles are intended to inform and reinforce organisations' efforts towards achieving continuous improvement in the performance of their functions. It is the outcome of these efforts that matters, and not the detail of the processes."

Firstly, the goal of best value should not be merely to achieve "continuous improvement" - an old slogan taken from the 1980's Japanese Management Best Seller Airport books. A management style went out of fashion after their economic crash.

Secondly, it would appear that the Executive's BV principles are confused. In BV, it is not the only the outcomes that matter, which was the old principle of CCT, but both the processes and the outcomes which matter. We understand that the Executive does not want to be too prescriptive in the details of the processes, however there must be a balance. Processes should not be eliminated in the Executive's main principles of BV. We would remind the Executive of the White Paper Partnership for Care, which promoted health and developed the themes of:

  • patients and national standards as key drivers for change
  • frontline staff as leaders of the change process.

And lastly, we believe that the drive for "continuous improvement" has led to incessant reviews, making it impossible to get on with the job. It also leads to an offensive/defensive relationship, rather than a true partnership approach.

Whilst there is reference to training and development, this is more as a means to achieving some other goal. UNISON would like to see training and development included in the Best Value provision as a goal in itself, as a key driver to motivating, valuing and encouraging employees.

Commitment and Leadership

In point 2.d) of this first chapter UNISON would want to see "the need to have regard to quality employment" included as one of the Best Value principles. It is our view that ensuring quality employment is key to achieving Best Value, and that if a public sector organisation is not providing decent and fair employment to its staff then it cannot secure Best Value.

UNISON would like to see trade unions specifically mentioned as a key stakeholder, to ensure that Best Value means that public sector organisations will be working with unions as representatives of employees.

We very much welcome point 7's emphasis on involving staff in developing the organisation's approach to Best Value at all levels, and believe real and effective partnership with trade unions is the best way to progress this.

Responsiveness and Consultation

UNISON welcomes the characteristic of responsiveness and consultation. However we do have difficulty with the notion of public sector organisations (PSOs) as meeting the demands of consumers. The customer service culture is a limited vision for public services, lacking the capacity and flexibility to meet the wide range of community needs. We were pleased to note Scotland's Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm's recent comments stressing that the health service in Scotland treats patients not consumers, and the importance of ensuring high standards in every hospital. UNISON agrees with the Health Minister that the emphasis should be on quality for all, rather than individualism and a choice that creates divisions between people due to the area they live in, wealth or some other reason.

UNISON is clear that we have to move away from the concept of PSOs as consumer commodities. Instead we view them as democratically accountable bodies delivering a service to citizens. The draft guidance does mention PSOs have to be responsive to citizens, although it also states they have to respond to the needs of customers. UNISON believes to respond to both citizens and customers can cause contradictions: customers simply purchase a product, whereas citizens participate in a more involved and committed two way process of receiving a service provided by the state / society to meet their needs.

The issue of democratic accountability is a defining difference between public and private services. However, the growth of agencies and non-departmental public bodies has to some extent blurred many of our democratic structures. The application of Best Value to all PSOs is an opportunity to remedy this and to revitalise the ability of these organisations to consult and respond to stakeholders and citizens. UNISON believes that effective responsiveness and consultation means effective structures for participation, to scrutinise, for reporting and transparent communication. We would like to see more emphasis in this characteristic on getting users, citizens and staff (through their representative trade unions) to participate in consultations and the operations of PSOs.

Sound Governance at a Strategic and Operational Level

UNISON supports the general themes of sound governance within a framework for planning and budgeting linked to available resources to achieve the organisation's goals. It is important that PSOs take into account the Scottish Executive's priorities and policy statements and are supported by the Executive to do so. However, staff governance has been omitted. We believe that staff governance must be included along with planning and budgeting at a strategic and operational level.

In point A.3 we believe that where delivery is through others these "contractors" should automatically be obliged to meet the same Best Value standards as the PSO, and that this should be explicitly stated in this guidance and in contracts.

UNISON is clear that there are a wide range of factors that determine performance of PSOs. This draft guidance does to some extent take this into account, in its reference in point A.4 to financial, human and operational resources. However, there is little explanation on factors for determining performance in section B and more references to PSO's as customer rather than citizen-orientated bodies. There is no indication as to how this is going to be achieved. Again, while we understand the basic principles behind promoting a more permissive document, as opposed to prescriptive, there is a balance to be achieved. We believe that there should be further explanation of how this will be achieved. UNISON Scotland would like to see the Nolan Principles included in this section to emphasise the importance of the public service ethos.

Equally there is no mention of the promotion of staff governance, rather we find the emphasis is still on financial governance. UNISON Scotland fully supports the creation of staff governance in all public service organisations such as the NHS, which would be similar to HE/FE board guidance. Staff accountability would provide a level playing field and democratic and partnership approach to delivering services.

UNISON believes performance assessment should be based on:

  • Inputs - the resources used to produce a service, which include cost and efficiency.
  • Outputs - measure of the goods and services delivered
  • Outcomes - indicating the impact or benefit of services
  • Process - measuring the manner in which the outcomes are achieved.

As we indicated in our response on Best Value in Local Government, performance targets need to incorporate a wide range of factors which determine the performance of a PSO, including the actual processes themselves, the funding access, the service environment and relationships between users and the wider community. It is also important that performance management does not mean creating a blame culture. Rather it is about agreeing a supportive and positive way forward to address problems and challenges as they arise.

In point B.6 UNISON recognises that PSOs can learn from commercial organisations, but the private sector experience is a limited vision on which to base public service delivery. We are clear that those delivering the services have the expertise, knowledge and experience of what works and what doesn't. PSO workers are a vital resource and source for ideas to reform, improve and modernise service provision.

We welcome the commitment to systematic reporting on performance, given that it is presented in an accessible and transparent format, and that all factors which determine performance, including employment practices, are taken into account to produce a fair picture. However, we believe there has been a serious omission in the document, which fails to recognise different structures in the public services, such as in Health and Universities.

Sound Management of Resources

UNISON welcomes the characteristic of sound management of resources within the Best Value framework, to include employees, property, ICT and financial resources. UNISON supports the statements on employees as a "key strategic resource" (point 3) to be "valued and that their skills and knowledge are used effectively and to the full" (point 5). To achieve Best Value PSOs should also have to offer appropriate development and training opportunities to their staff. As noted above in our general comments, training and development should be viewed as a "good" in itself to creating more productive, motivated, valued and happy employees, as well as adding value to the PSO and its service provision.

This section should refer to fair employment practice, including an end to two-tiered employment practices, and the observance of good practices and the promotion of equal opportunities in employment operations.

UNISON welcomes the provisions for procurement, including equal opportunities, health and safety and sustainable development, as well as quality. We believe that it is important that characteristics of Best Value arrangements are applied by PSOs to all procurement and contracting work carried out.

However, in point 12 we are alarmed at the intention to only apply the "minimum possible burden" on suppliers consistent with the achievement of best value through effective competition. This is also a contradiction to point 9. The cost of setting up new structures must be taken into consideration. To achieve Best Value all elements of the PSO have to be committed, including any contractors. Therefore, UNISON would want to see the same standards applied to contractors as are applied to the PSO to achieve real Best Value.

Use of Review and Options Appraisal

If we are to see the continual improvement and development of public services that is required to achieve Best Value it is essential that services are subject to regular review processes which are effective and aimed at improving services.

UNISON wants to see specific references to employees and trade unions included as key stakeholders in the review process. Frontline staff have the expertise and experience in their field, and PSOs should be utilising their ideas on what works and how services can be improved.

UNISON supports the inclusion of equality issues, social impact and sustainability factors in the review process. We are very clear that cost should not be the only motivators for review or change, quality is key. The First Minister himself said when addressing the STUC 2002,

"The creation of a two tier workforce undermines our intention to create excellence and quality within Scotland's public services, and we will take steps to tackle it".


A Contribution to Sustainable Development

UNISON welcomes the importance given to sustainable development as a characteristic of Best Value. It is essential that social, economic and environmental impacts of actions are accounted for, in both the short and longer term. It is good that the guidance clarifies for Accountable Officers the need to apply sustainable development factors to the PSOs objectives, its strategies and plans, its review and monitoring procedures, procurement and management of resources. However, the document is still too vague as to what this means and the mechanisms to achieve this. The key word that is used in every point in this section is "contribute". So while there are many number of points made in this section, none of them really say anything substantial. This word/phrase is similar and about as useful as the other well known vague phrase, "as far as is reasonably practical".

Equal Opportunities Arrangements

Equality and diversity is crucial to the best value process, and UNISON welcomes the importance given to equal opportunities arrangements in the Best Value characteristics. We would have preferred to see a duty to "actively promote" rather than merely encourage equal opportunities. However, it is good to see the statements on mainstreaming equalities, the recognition of the different needs of people, and the commitments to incorporate equal opportunities at all levels. It is essential that training and awareness in equal opportunities provisions is provided for all PSO personnel at a corporate and service level to ensure service development and delivery is of the highest quality and responds to the needs of specific groups

UNISON very much welcomes the commitment in point 4 to carry out equal pay audits and equal pay reviews. All employers should be conducting equal pay audits to ensure that gender discrimination in pay systems, job description, job design and work segregation is being addressed. It is good to see the obligation on PSOs to do so, and UNISON believes that references in the document to working with trade unions on this issue would mean that PSOs access useful support and assistance to conduct equal pay audits.

Joint Working

UNISON supports the culture of joint working at both formal and informal levels. We believe that the document should refer to joint working with trade unions, referring to the positive examples of partnership working between the Scottish Executive and STUC: the Memorandum of Understanding and the PPP Staffing Protocol already mentioned above. Trade unions, as democratic and accountable representatives of workers, have an important role to play in improving service delivery and adding value to the work and role of PSOs.

In point 2 we believe that trade unions should be included as stakeholders or "partner organisations". There should also be an additional point setting out that the partnership should work to improve service delivery.

UNISON has some concerns in point 3 on joint funding and joint management of activities, and would like further clarification and consultation on this point. Our position is that there should be transparency and accountability in decision making within PSOs. We would support greater democracy in PSOs and roles for worker representatives in the management structures of PSOs, but would like to see more detail on what is intended by this point.

Given the emphasis on equality and sustainable development within the Best Value arrangements, we feel that it goes without saying that these policies have to be pursued in joint working. This would include public sector networks and cross boundary working with different organisations within the public services (details which can be found in UNISON Scotland's manifesto for Scotland's public services, Revitalise our Public Services).


UNISON is clear that PSOs have to be accountable, open, transparent and fair in their service provision, structures and reporting processes. Information presented for public consumption should be made available in accessible and understandable formats, taking into account equality provisions. The guidance needs to recognise that accountability in public services outwith local government is achieved through different structures.


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