Best value in public services: guidance for accountable officers

This document is issued by Scottish Ministers to provide guidance for accountable officers on the duty to ensure that arrangements are in place to secure best value in public services.



1. This guidance explains the duty of Best Value and the characteristics of a Best Value organisation. It has been prepared to assist Accountable Officers of Public Bodies covered by the Scottish Public Finance Manual ( SPFM). The Guidance replaces previous Guidance published in 2006 1. Separate guidance is available for Local Authorities on their statutory duty of Best Value 2.

2. The duty of Best Value has been in place since 2002 and this guidance has been refreshed both to reinforce the importance of the duty and to better reflect the context of public services working in partnership to deliver improved outcomes for the people of Scotland. The refreshed guidance also reflects learning from experience of delivering Best Value across the public sector over the last few years and in particular the work undertaken to inform future approaches to auditing Best Value in local government (Best Value 2 or " BV2" 3).

3. The approach to Best Value in this guidance is intended to support Accountable Officers and, where appropriate, Board Members (and the organisations which they serve) in focusing on (i) continuous improvement which will help ensure sustainable economic growth for the people of Scotland and (ii) delivery of the outcomes required of all public services as articulated in the National Performance Framework. Details of specific roles and responsibilities is at Annex A.

4. This guidance is intended to be of use across the range of Scotland's Public Bodies, recognising that they comprise a diverse range of organisations of varying size, functions and responsibilities and with different accountability and governance requirements.

5. The guidance specifically recognises the importance of partnership working and joint delivery of outcomes - it enables Accountable Officers to consider in a consistent way what is currently happening in their organisations and those that they work in partnership with, in order to deliver their required outcomes.


6. The duty of Best Value, as set out in the SPFM, is:

  • To make arrangements to secure continuous improvement in performance whilst maintaining an appropriate balance between quality and cost; and, in making those arrangements and securing that balance,
  • To have regard to economy, efficiency, effectiveness, the equal opportunities requirements and to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development.

7. The SPFM sets out nine characteristics of Best Value which Public Bodies are expected to demonstrate. Each of the original 9 Best Value characteristics in the SPFM remain equally relevant now. However, the nature of these characteristics has evolved in light of the changing context within which Public Bodies have operated since 2007. In moving forward and refreshing this guidance, the Scottish Government has deemed it appropriate to focus on 5 generic and 2 cross-cutting themes which now define the expectations placed on Accountable Officers by the duty of Best Value. This is also in line with the approach being taken on Best Value as it applies to Local Authorities ("Best Value 2").

8. This refreshed guidance, therefore, regroups the Best Value characteristics in a way which both emphasises the connections between the characteristics and assists partnership working between Public Bodies and their partners (including where appropriate Community Planning Partners) as they deliver their outcomes. The five themes are:

  • Vision and Leadership;
  • Effective Partnerships;
  • Governance and Accountability;
  • Use of Resources; and
  • Performance Management.

The guidance also identifies the two cross-cutting themes which a Best Value organisation should fully embrace across all the activities by which they deliver their outcomes. These cross-cutting themes are:

  • Equality; and
  • Sustainability.

8. Best Value ultimately is about creating an effective organisational context from which Public Bodies can deliver their key outcomes. It provides the building blocks on which to deliver good outcomes by ensuring that they are delivered in a manner which is economic, efficient, sustainable and supportive of continuous improvement. It also provides a common framework for continuous improvement across public services in Scotland.


9. Scottish Ministers expect all Accountable Officers of the Scottish Administration and Accountable Officers of other Public Bodies to comply with the duty of Best Value placed upon them. Compliance with the duty of Best Value (as described in the SPFM) is an auditable requirement and subject to scrutiny under the terms of section 22(1)(c) of the Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act 2000 ("the PFA Act) for any organisation subject to audit by the Auditor General for Scotland.

10. Audit Scotland undertakes audits as required by the Auditor General for Scotland. The flexible and proportionate approach being taken to auditing Best Value in Public Bodies is described in " Auditing Best Value in central government bodies" and " Auditing Best Value in the NHS". The clear focus is on adding value to existing arrangements, increasingly relying on self-assessment and using a wide range of evidence which has been gathered for a variety of purposes.

11. In essence, compliance with the duty of Best Value requires Public Bodies to take a systematic approach to self-evaluation and continuous improvement. Achieving and demonstrating continuous improvement in performance and outcomes (by whatever means is seen as appropriate by the individual body) is a core requirement for all Public Bodies.

12. The guidance therefore identifies the themes which an organisation needs to focus on in order to deliver the duty of Best Value. The guidance is not prescriptive of the approach which should be taken, nor does it specify process. It does not seek to create a "one-size fits all" approach but rather it provides detail on what organisations should be aiming for and also points to related support and guidance material.

13. Each organisation can determine the route by which it intends to achieve Best Value and arrive at its identified improvement goals. The strategic focus should be on achieving continuous improvement in performance and outcome. Whatever strategy is agreed on by the individual Accountable Officer and, where appropriate, their Board, it should show clearly how the organisation will demonstrate the relevant characteristics, ensure continuous improvement across all activities and deliver improved performance and outcomes.

14. It is the successful outcome of the effort that matters, rather than the detail of the processes. There are already a number of business management, improvement or change frameworks available to an individual organisation. The Best Value approach can incorporate specific approaches such as the European Foundation for Quality Management ( EFQM), the Public Services Improvement Framework ( PSIF) and other relevant disciplines such as benchmarking. Irrespective of what approach is chosen, a Best Value organisation will be able to demonstrate through its usual assurance and self-assessment processes how the Best Value attributes and practices are embedded within the way it works.

15. Implementation of Best Value should be appropriate and proportionate to the priorities, operating environment, scale of business and the nature of the body's business and should be implemented accordingly. However, in considering the necessary scale and proportionality of its approach to ensuring Best Value, bodies should also consider comparisons within the wider public sector, rather than only within their usual public sector "family". A "small" body in one sector may actually be quite large when compared with Public Bodies in another sector.


16. The Scottish Government has identified 6 questions, which Accountable Officers of Public Bodies might find useful in applying Best Value. The questions stem from the early work of its Performance Board, and will be used initially in setting standards for the Scottish Government's activities.


1. Do we have a policy narrative that is simple, clear, and evidence-based; and which enables leaders, decision makers, stakeholders and staff to champion and embed a performance culture?

2. In driving for improved outcomes, are we prioritising the performance improvements likely to have the greatest impact?


3. Is there clear and shared understanding throughout the organisation about how performance improvement is going to be secured locally and reliably?

4. Do we have measures in place (supporting our narrative) that will demonstrate, openly and transparently, whether performance is improving quickly enough to meet our annual and long term improvement goals?

Continuous Improvement and Learning

5. Are we sparking creativity and innovation; finding and systematically spreading the best outcomes, practices and ideas; and learning from what works?

6. Do we have capacity and capability to deploy when performance is slow or weak?


17. This guidance is part of the guidance for Public Bodies provided by the Scottish Government and other relevant organisations. It takes account of the changed context within which Public Bodies have operated since 2007. In particular:

  • all of Scotland's public services are now expected to align their activity towards supporting the Government's Purpose and National Outcomes; and
  • having a shared Purpose and set of National Outcomes means there is both the opportunity and expectation that public bodies will work together in pursuit of shared priorities

This guidance will be kept under review and any comments on it can be sent to the Public Bodies Policy team at

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