13 June 2000
Cynthia Griffin, at the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) for Local Government, explains how the new Agency is pushing forward a joined up government agenda with its own organisation and local authorities
Joined-up government is a concept we can all subscribe to – placing the needs of the citizen above those of the service providers, and ensuring that organisations work together to minimise cost and bureaucracy and improve service provision.
This philosophy is at the heart of what we do at the Improvement and Development Agency.
The Improvement and Development Agency, set up in April of last year with a remit to help local authorities do things better, took a long look at the issues facing local government, and the issues it was likely to face in the future, when deciding what services it should deliver. We consulted by first touring the country, talking to leaders and chief executives, and then set up consultation groups that help steer the work of various teams in the right direction. We also decided to discontinue some of the work of our predecessor organisation, preferring to redirect valuable resources.
But one thing was as clear for us, as for local government – services needed to be arranged for the benefit of our customers in councils. They needed to be governed by the principles of joined-up government and Best Value, as well as supporting work in these areas across the sector.
A key element of this work is identifying what needs to be done, who is doing it well, and sharing and learning from that practice.
So how does that translate into services from us?
One of our key areas for support is Best Value – an initiative which has joined-up government and citizen first as its key focuses.
It asks us to challenge sometimes strongly-held beliefs about the way that services are delivered, and indeed the services themselves. It asks us to allow for fair competition when deciding who should deliver services – competition based not just on the bottom line, but on principles of fairness, equity and quality. It asks us to compare delivery of similar services elsewhere in the public and private sector. And it asks us to consult widely – with the public, partners, and other stakeholders – about what their priorities for service delivery are, and how they would like them to be delivered.
In short, it asks us to think about structuring the delivery of services not for the benefit of our organisations, but for the benefit of the people receiving them. And as long as the minutiae of statutory requirements are addressed in dealing with Best Value and joined-up government, attention to one will go an awful long way to delivering the other.
So what are we doing?
Well the Best Value team itself has run – along with the DETR – a series of ten very successful seminars around the country, looking at the implications of the new regime for both officers and members – especially those in non-executive roles. These reached more than 1,000 people, many of whom had had no involvement in the planning and preparations for its April implementation. The team's consultants and myself have also taken to the platform at many conferences to explain the support and direction we can offer, including a recent series of seminars with the Audit Commission to launch 'Seeing is believing'. Publications include: an ABC of Best Value for members; four documents on approaches to Best Value; a CD-ROM on performance plans, including examples from authorities around the country; and a Best Value resource pack, including video, which we jointly produced with Portsmouth. We also run a telephone helpline and produce a fortnightly Best Value newspaper. A database on initiatives in Best Value, accessible to all who contribute, is also managed and maintained.
We have also linked Best Value to the work we are doing to support learning and dissemination from the Beacon Council scheme. This good practice has a range of applications – not least of which is as a comparator for Best Value reviews. This is done in partnership with the DETR.
But, given the move towards the delivery of services electronically, the Best Value team is joining forces (as are other of the agency's units) with the Best Practice team as the latter develops its new online service – KnowledgeNet. This will be launched in November and aims to be the largest repository of local government best practice information in the world. Its contents – including extensive sections on Best Value – will be evaluated by teams of experts, and users will be able to tailor the service to their own interests by registering an interest in certain subjects.
By making our best practice service available over the internet, we are in effect 'walking the talk' about our beliefs on the future and how services will be provided.
The IDeA is a signatory to the Central Local Information Age Concordat. In effect, we are charged with putting electronic government into practice. This is broader than websites, it is about providing systems and services electronically and in partnership with other organisations.
The National Land Information Service (NLIS) is a partnership between ourselves on behalf of local government and HM Land Registry. Piloted in Bristol and South Gloucestershire, the overall aim of NLIS is to promote the electronic delivery of land and property information to a wide audience, though in the first instance creating integrated search facilities to support conveyancing – and thus ending gazumping – is the priority.
To do this, NLIS is linking up to another major project which the IDeA is leading on behalf of local authorities. It is currently working to create a national address list that will give each property in the country its own unique number, grid co-ordinate and name or description, the National Land and Property Gazetteer (NLPG). Conforming to the British Standard (BS 7666), the NLPG will solve the problems that plague the public and private sector alike which arise from different organisations – or parts or organisations – holding differently configured addresses for the same property. For example; some may know a particular property as 17 Cherry Lane while others know it as 17a Cherry Lane Flat 1, 17 Cherry Lane, or Rose Cottage, Cherry Lane. This hardly makes for seamless communications between the occupier and any organisations with whom they may deal.
By giving every property – and eventually every piece of land – its own number and using this to square the records of those whose records need to be searched for online conveyancing, the benefits for the citizen and service provider will be vast.
It is estimated that 80% of all datasets in the United Kingdom have an address component and that 10% of local authorities' total expenditure relates to the collection and maintenance of data. When NLPG is fully established, councils will save between them more than £200m a year from managing their data. It is also estimated that this 'clean' and cross-referenced data will deliver the 2% year-on-year savings demanded by Best Value as council departments save time and money trying to establish just who or what they are talking about to each other.
And, as information providers through NLIS, councils will also be able to commercially exploit the data they are required by law to collect. Now how's that for joined-up government and Best Value?