Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation
Thursday 13 July 2000
[Mr. Bowen Wells in the Chair]
Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 64) on the Special Grant for activities undertaken by Beacon Councils (H.C. No. 564)
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Beverley Hughes): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report No. 64 on the Special Grant for activities undertaken by Beacon Councils) (H.C. No. 564).
The Government are trying to advance the effective provision of good quality local services, and the beacon councils scheme is an essential complement to the best value regime introduced by the Local Government Act 1999. The councils to which the special grant report refers were selected for beacon status across a range of services in the first year, and their programme of roadshows, open days and other events is well under way. In terms of the services that they deliver for local people, the programme will give all local authorities the opportunity to learn and improve.
The most important part of the beacon council scheme is not only the celebration of excellence but effective dissemination of best practice in service areas, from which other councils can learn. Local government has embraced the scheme whole-heartedly: 269 applications resulted in the awarding of beacon status to 42 councils in December 1999. As part of the scheme, we promised councils £700,000, to be shared between them, to help with the cost of dissemination. There is a great deal of innovative dissemination; in addition to roadshows and events, there are secondments into and from councils.
The report simply authorises payment of the £700,000, which will be divided equally among applicants. Each council will get £21,212, but they must submit detailed plans, as well as audited accounts. This is an essential part of enabling councils to help others to improve their practice, so I hope that Committee members will be pleased to approve the report.
Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham): We have no problem with the order, but why is it necessary to introduce an order to provide £21,000? That is a mere drop in the ocean for the City of Westminster and, no doubt, the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea. I cannot believe that such a sum would even be noticed in their accounts.
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): May I follow my hon. Friend's question with a technical question on paragraph 4 of annex B? As I understand it, Parliament will authorise Government to pay out a sum not exceeding £700,000. That sum will be multiplied by the number of planspresumably, a number greater than oneand divided by the number of plans submitted to the Secretary of State. If, for some reason, a plan submitted by a relevant authority did not reach the Secretary of State, the resulting sum would be greater than £700,000, because a large number divided by a smaller number is a number greater than one. Can the Under-Secretary assure us that plans cannot be lost in that way, and that such a thing could not therefore happen?
Ms Beverley Hughes: On the first point, which was raised by the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), decisions on public money must be dealt with not by Ministers but through the processes of the House and the Government. I am assured that we must go through the process to ensure that all hon. Members are happy that we are paying £700,000 to the councils that are mentioned in the report.
On the second point, all the plans have been received, and almost all have been approved as satisfactory. We do not anticipate any of the problems that the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) identified. The money will be distributed as outlined in the report.
Mr. Peter Bottomley: I thank the Minister for that response. Perhaps she or one of her officials could write to me unpacking precisely what those words are supposed to mean, because they are rather curious. I do not ask her to deal with it now, but I should like to know at some stage why that form of words was used.
Ms Hughes: If the hon. Gentleman wants to see what I said in writing, that is fine. I have explained the process that we have gone through. We expect all the plans that are received to be satisfactory, and the money will therefore be allocated in line with the provisions of the reportthat is, divided equally among the councils that have submitted plans. I shall be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman about it.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 64) on the Special Grant for activities undertaken by Beacon Councils (H.C. No. 564)
Committee rose at Ten o'clock.
The following Members attended the Committee:
Wells, Mr. Bowen (Chairman)
Ainsworth, Mr. Robert
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bottomley, Mr. Peter
Davies, Mr. Geraint
Foster, Mr. Don
Gardiner, Mr. Barry
Hughes, Ms Beverley
The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 1182:
Burns, Mr. Simon (West Chelmsford)