Examination of witnesses (Questions 60
TUESDAY 6 MARCH 2001
LYONS and MR
60. Local government, when do you think it was
(Sir Michael Lyons) Local government is still very
vigorous and always will be in this country. It does not depend
on the patronage of central government; it depends on the will
of local people to have a say in their own future. It might be
changed in its form or its way of working but it is not something
that can be abolished.
61. You do not think it has become local administration?
(Sir Michael Lyons) No, I do not. I do not dismiss
your point. There are some changes over recent years which have
taken away the same autonomy: funding regimes which are service
specific and the passporting of funds to authorities on the clear
undertaking they can only be spent on particular servicesit
has become more restricted. Room for local discretion has, in
places, become more limited, but I do not think local government
is any less vital now than at any point in the past.
Chairman: Do you think the volumes coming out
from the Department of how you should do your job have helped?
Sir Paul Beresford
62. Can you add best value to this as well?
(Sir Michael Lyons) Could I ask you to change that
question. If you asked me if they have helped that would be a
difficult question for me to answer!
63. These constitutions you are going to have
to submit to the government, how long do you expect government
to take to scrutinise them?
(Mr Dobson) Under the legislation our obligation is
simply to submit them; we do not actually have to wait for them
to be approved or checked. We will be submitting two by the end
64. A sort of either/or!
(Mr Dobson) Yes. To use the language of the Act, they
will be our "proposals" and our "fall-back proposals".
It is the language of the Act, and not my choice. In the referendum
the people of Birmingham will be choosing between these two constitutions.
65. The Government will not have another role
to play; it will not be able to tinker with your constitutions?
(Mr Dobson) Obviously they will have the opportunity
to look at our constitutions, and our consultation statement etc.
If they believe we have not consulted adequately or we have put
together a constitution which is incompatible with the Act, then
there are powers to intervene. We do not however have to sit back
and wait for them to approve our constitution.
66. Do you not think really we could have got
rid of an awful lot of this central direction of local government
and actually returned local government to the opportunities to
decide how they want to actually run local government?
(Sir Michael Lyons) That is an interesting question,
is it not. It really depends on how satisfied one is with local
government, or one was with local government before the changes
took place. Certainly the current government and its predecessor
both felt they had a mandate to improve the performance of local
government and that ranked very high on both agendas. I have to
say that I can understand why. At its best local government is
very good, but there are some profound weaknesses in performance
up and down the country. I think it is a difficult answer really.
I think one could design a framework which had a lighter touch
in terms of demanding change. I think the current experimentation
with Public Service Agreements offers a model of a formal contract
between government and individual authorities to meet certain
targets and, in return, to be allowed certain freedoms. If you
could amplify that to a five-year contract with government often
considerable freedom over that period, I think you would have
something which we could all be proud of.
67. Should the contract be between the local
authority and government or between its electors?
(Sir Michael Lyons) Essentially, between the electors
but that is a difficult contract to develop. There have been proxies
for that in the attempts to try to get the council to work with
other agencies and in some of the thinking behind the original
City Pride experiments.
Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very
much for your evidence.