Stevens, D and Green, P. (2002) 'Explaining continuity and change in the transition from Compulsory Competitive Tendering to Best Value for sport and recreation management', in Managing Leisure, Vol 7: 124 - 38.
The victory of New Labour also offered a significant change in the way that sport and recreation facilities were funded, CCT gave way to Best Value (BV). What this paper tries to do is evaluate CCT as a policy [and summarises a number of important pieces of work in the process], and begin to critique Best Value [which turns into a critique of Third Way thinking as we shall see]. It is difficult to proceed very far with a critique of BV, partly because it is intended to be complex and take on local variations, partly because local managers of recreation facilities have not really had the opportunity to test it, having resisted CCT so vigorously, and partly because New Labour is still enjoying a honeymoon period [not now in 2004 I fancy!].
CCT is associated with Thatcherite politics, which challenged the post-war consensus and developed a distinctive 'New Right' agenda. [The authors tend to rely on Mrs Thatcher herself to define the key characteristics of Thatcherism, which may mean that they take to specific a focus, compared with say Hall on Thatcherism, or Habermas on 'the neo-conservative turn' -- NB not really the best sources -- but available here and will give you the idea]. The main point concerns 'introducing market discipline' (125) to local government provision of recreation, through the proposal that competitive tendering be introduced for most cases. One consequence was that local authorities became clients, and contractors, not necessarily local authorities themselves, competed to provide services. The earlier arrangement was seen as inefficient and unaccountable: the new policy would lead to more customer-oriented services and more efficient delivery under the pressure of competition.
The period before this policy had featured an idea that recreation should be seen as a form of welfare provision, and as such, it should be democratised and accessible. Local government also invested in order to gain certain 'desirable externalities (associated benefits)... such as improved health or reduced levels of vandalism' (126). Coalter has argued that the underlying philosophy involves a gradual evolution or extension of civil and political rights to include 'social rights (based on access to welfare benefits and services)' (126), including access to leisure. [Other analysts, especially Hall, would see this extension as part of an implicit social contract, whereby the social democratic State encouraged capitalism, and promised benefits in exchange, including regulated and reasonable wages and social welfare benefits. The failure to reconcile these two goals leads to the fundamental crisis in this version of social democracy]. Seeing leisure as a social right in this sense was, however 'not wholly coherent, perhaps over estimating the role of public sport and recreation facilities as a component of citizenship' (127, citing Coalter 1998). Another assumption was that it was simply the cost of entrance that limited access: 'Instead, decisions to participate have more to do with cultural attitudes underlying lack of interest or lifestyle factors which limit the free time available' (127, citing Coalter 1993). As a result, local government subsidy could be seen as unintentionally rewarding those who already are prepared to participate, and failing to attract those most in need.
A number of reports from Audit Commissions also revealed a lack of clarity about the purposes of local government funding, and a lack of knowledge of the effectiveness of such spending. Certainly, few local authorities had 'general leisure strategies... effective strategic planning and clarification of objectives' (128). Thus apart from the general political commitments to roll back the state, spokesman for the new right were able to point to specific inefficiencies, and a certain administrative inertia 'concerned with questions of "what" and "how" but rarely with issues of "why"' (128).
At least CCT changed this to some extent, although it soon attracted criticism on the grounds that it was promoting market efficiency rather than social goals, that it undermined the welfare role, and turned citizens into consumers (129). Other commentators argued that the policy spread capitalist ideology, entrepreneurialism, and consumerism, with an inevitable social polarisation of leisure access. The authors want to suggest that many of these problems actually flowed from the way the policy was implemented, though. Officially, local authorities still had the power to act as clients and to restrain any tendencies towards privatisation. However, they were often unable to do this because they were so unclear about what they wanted, and unused to monitoring contracts.
It is true that few private contractors actually emerged (with the exception of a certain company called Circa Leisure -- see130). This may be because of the peculiarities of managing sport and recreation, which include '"the qualitative nature of the people oriented service based on staff customer relationships, the wide variation in the size and condition of facilities and the broad range of management and technical expertise required"' (130, quoting Coalter 1995:6). This position might have changed in time, however.
Labour was committed to replacing CCT as soon as possible [what made the provision of leisure so important ideologically? Is it just electoral advantage as indicated below? Surely we know from subsequent developments that recreations and sport were seen as major routes to social inclusion, as important as education]. Their BV policy simply expected local authorities to provide the best possible service, and expected that service to improve continually over time through setting of targets. The policy was introduced soon after the election victory of 1997. It can be summarised as incorporating 'the "four Cs"' (131):
(1 ) Challenge --'questioning the need for a service to be delivered at all' (131)
(2) Compare -- provision against 'the best available both inside and outside the public sector' (131)
(3) Consult -- with the local community, and, eventually with all relevant stakeholders
(4) Compete -- in any way that makes services competitive
This policy is best understood as a reaction to the neo-liberalism of Thatcher and Reagan. In general terms, the proposal was to renew and reform a social democratic model, insisting that social justice and equality should be used to balance economic growth and market forces. This is the context for New Labour and their version of the Third Way. [Giddens is also cited as a founding influence, but he merely adds 'theoretical flesh' to New Labour, in a spirit of 'post hoc rationalisation' (132). The New Labour version was simply designed to 'restore electoral credibility to the Labour Party' (132)]. In its New Labour version, pragmatic decision-making was prominent, to replace the earlier ideological commitments. For some of its critics, including the authors, this makes it too incoherent to be the basis for an adequate policy, and too connected to the electoral fortunes of the Labour Party.
The criticisms of CCT -- that it leads to short-term thinking -- can also be levelled against the new regime. Local politicians are not selfless individuals, focused on the common good, 'but instead seek their own good' (133) In particular, sport and recreation professionals opposed CCT largely because it damaged their self interests. The clash of these local interests is what limited the strategic planning of local authorities in the first place. Provision is still likely to be dictated by the electoral advantage to be gained at the local level. Generally, political processes of decision-making are not likely to deliver any more than are market processes: a recent (2001) Audit Commission report found a particular inability to undertake challenging reviews of provision, raising the suspicion that 'maintenance of the status quo is in the self-interest of many officers and councillors' (134).
Even if politicians were to take seriously the requirement to consult and justify their choices to the public, this would not necessarily guarantee policy development according to social goals. Arranging adequate consultation is difficult, and, again the Audit Commission 'found that there are many barriers to involving local people and that some groups are hard to reach' (134) [which is the point I was making against Burns]. Further, the range of possible stakeholders could be very wide indeed, and there is no guarantee that they can agree on priorities -- 'customers might [want]... low admission prices or high levels of service delivery and quality, whilst for non sport and recreation centre users who also happen to be council-tax payers, Best Value might mean lower council tax rates to be achieved by minimising the subsidies required' (135). Councils have always had to balance these different needs, but BV offers no magic solution -- the question is still '"Best Value for whom"' (135).
Perhaps the shift from CCT to BV is not even that radical. Ravenscroft (1998) has argued that there is no principled objection to CCT among New Labour politicians, but merely technical ones. The authors disagree, and say that Third Way thinking is distinctively different, based as it is on 'a broad notion of citizenship' (135). Ravenscroft also points to the persistence of managerialist factors, such as planning by objectives, performance indicators and measurement. Again, the authors disagree [but this may be where their rather specific definition of Thatcherism leads them -- more general analyses of neo-conservatism see managerialism as a central plank, supported by Labour and Conservative alike and thus deeply 'ideological', an indication of the success of the deeper Thatcherite ideological project extending to more than party political electoral advantage]. Third Way thinking does seem to agree that public sector organisations should be managed differently from private companies, preserving citizenship and political democratic accountability. Here, BV tries to 'focus on both the customer and the citizen' (136), relying both on markets and on consultation.
Thus, the transition from CCT to BV displays both continuity and change, and both policies have both negative and positive consequences for the provision of sport and recreation. CCT did force local authorities to consider more explicitly how they were spending their money, and it did challenge corporate inertia. BV attempts to retain these positive consequences and to remove the main problem -- placing narrow market considerations above more general social goals and effectiveness. This does reflect a different philosophical commitment, which could have even more consequences in the future.
[Clearly, much depends on whether you see the actual political parties as offering sufficiently different emphases,or whether you see them as offering closely-linked variations around the theme of moderninsing capitalism and extending its logic while retaining the allegiance of citizens. In simpler terms, is BV simply 'creeping privatisation'? We know quite a lot about how this sort of 'creep' happens:
(a) Establishing and setting social goals is difficult, as the authors suggest, and it may even be impossible to arrive at a working consensus. A kind of 'secularisation' process sets in as a result, and those annoyingly ambiguous goals are relegated to a minor place in favour of far more achievable 'practical' things to do immediately. No wonder there is little interest in 'challenge' -- it is not just inertia that is responsible: discussing goals and purposes, which usually leads towards stalemate, is seen as a waste of time by busy adnministrators and politicians.
(b) The managerialist culture and processes identified by Ravenscroft help to manage and dispose of any controlling influences of social and political goals: managerial techniques and systems are not just obedient means to achieve superior ends, but have their own effects. Complex goals get simplified, bullet-pointed, operationalised until they can be managed. This is also a process of reduction -- goals get reduced to mere objectives, and thus 'distinctive philosophies' soon become horribly familiar as a set of banal targets, rather than as some differnet and challenging discourse. 'Stakeholder participation' can easily become operationalised as analysing the results of a questionnaire; 'citizenship' means fornal entitlement to participate; 'monitoring effectiveness' means using regular opinion polls. These techniques may not be quite as crude as just looking at economic returns, but they are not far off, and share the same logic. There is little chance for a distinctive way of implementing social goals and philosophies.
The future will indeed be interesting.]
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