Chris Fogarty reports
A Government green paper spelling the end of Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) could be released next month.
The anticipated move comes as the Labour administration prepares to usher in more flexible legislation and regulations that could ease the burden placed on local authority legal departments.
President of the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors, Peter Keith-Lucas, said the group was anticipating a green paper next month that would signal the end of CCT and the start of its replacement, a policy known as 'Best Value'.
Keith-Lucas, who condemned CCT regulations as "idiotic", predicted that there would be a progressive relaxation of the rules leading up to Labour's promised scrapping of the current regime by 1999.
He said that unlike CCT the best value policy would not artificially create competition for council services, but rather compare their performance and efficiency with existing private sector business through a benchmark system.
"The accent will be much more on delivering the service you want to provide and measuring the service by benchmarking," said Keith-Lucas.
The Audit Commission's role could be expanded to set and monitor benchmark levels among local council services.
Keith-Lucas warned that benchmark levels would have to be sophisticated to take into account differing circumstances within council departments.
For example, London's Hillingdon Borough Council, whose solicitors are tied up in the long running and expensive Heathrow terminal five hearings, should not have the same benchmark level as Lambeth Council, which has externalised the majority of its legal services.
However, barrister Guy Roots QC, a local government specialist at 2 Mitre Court Buildings, has warned that a great deal of work on the best value system is still needed.
He added that when it came to the other contentious area – the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) – local government solicitors should not expect huge changes to the scheme although it could become more flexible.
"There's no doubt in my mind that Labour are going to have to run with PFI. It is the only way they are going to get schemes funded without going against their own commitment not to increase public expenditure," he said.