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Housebuilding Targets

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (1) what plans the Government have to revise the housebuilding targets published in the regional planning guidance for (a) the west midlands, (b) the south-east and (c) East Anglia; and if he will make a statement; [1279]

Ms Keeble: Draft Regional Planning Guidance (RPG) is drawn up by the Regional Planning Body for each region and includes proposed rates of housing provision. Once the RPG has been confirmed by the Secretary of State following public examination, the presumption is that the rates of housing provision are carried through into structure plans or Unitary Development Plans. The housing provision for each region is no longer set as an inflexible long-term target for housebuilding based on a 'predict and provide' methodology but is expressed as an annual rate of provision for additional dwellings which is subject to regular monitoring and review. The level of housing provision is monitored by the regional planning body with the expectation that it will be reviewed every five years, or sooner if necessary.

RPGs for East Anglia and the south-east were issued in November 2000 and March 2001 respectively. The regional planning body in the west midlands is currently preparing new draft RPG.

Best Value

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions how much public money within central Government has been allocated for administrative costs associated with best value in local government in the forthcoming year. [1291]

Mr. Raynsford: For the financial year 2001–02, £1,751,000 has been allocated within central Government for administrative costs associated with best value.

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what the estimated cost to central Government was of the administration of best value in local government in the last financial year. [1284]

Mr. Raynsford: In the financial year 2000–01, £1,524,000 was spent on the administration of best value by central Government.

Electoral Law

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what estimate he has made of the annual costs to business resulting from the provisions on the availability of the full and edited electoral register in the draft Representation of the People (England and Wales) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2001; and if he will make a statement. [1289]

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Mr. Raynsford: Officials have been in frequent contact with representatives of businesses and business associations since the beginning of 1998 when changes to the availability of electoral registers were first considered by the Working Party on Electoral Procedures. A summary of the estimates made by companies which responded to the working party was published in Annexe M to the working party's final report of October 1999, copies of which are in the Library of the House and on the Home Office website.

A draft Regulatory Impact Assessment accompanied the draft Amendment (No.2) Regulations when these were placed on the internet for public comment.

Local Government

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will make a statement on the Government's plans to undertake local government restructuring (a) before and (b) after the introduction of regional assemblies in England outside London. [1296]

Mr. Raynsford: No decisions have yet been taken on what—if any—changes in local government structures might be involved in taking forward the Government's proposals in relation to elected regional assemblies.

As my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister announced on 2 July 2001, Official Report, column 80W, the Government intend to publish a White Paper on Regional Governance in England. This will set out the Government's thinking on these issues.

Good Practice

Mr. Challen: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what steps he proposes to take to ensure that good practice in local government can be developed. [2164]

Dr. Whitehead: The Secretary of State has introduced a wide-ranging programme of modernisation for local government. We are committed to supporting the capacity of local government to deliver on this programme. The development of best practice is seen as an important element of such support.

We have strengthened the Improvement and Development Agency, particularly through the creation of the Performance Support Unit, and we continue to support the Local Government Improvement Programme. We have enhanced the Audit Commission's role in audit and inspection, particularly through the Best Value Inspection Service. The IDeA and the BVIS have key roles in sharing best practice.

The DTLR offers help to local authorities directly through (among others) its Modernisation Team, a group of senior staff with local authority experience who work in every region of the country to support councils as they introduce modernisation.

The Department is involved in many other initiatives. Examples include the introduction of Local Public Service Agreements. Local PSAs provide councils with the opportunity to discuss with Government Departments new ideas for improving services and try them out. Ideas that work will naturally be of interest to other councils.

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In addition, we are making available £350 million funding over three years, to enable local authorities achieve our target of 100 per cent. electronic service capability by 2005. This year we have made £25 million available to support innovative projects which will make a generic contribution to local authority service delivery. This work will be supported by a further £325 million in 2002–04.

Local authorities were able to compete for grant under Rounds 2 and 3 of the Invest to Save Budget. This is a Treasury/Cabinet Office initiative, designed to develop projects which bring together two or more public services in an innovative and more efficient fashion. In Round 3, 46 out of 100 successful projects were led by local authorities, involving some £22.4 million funding from a total ISB Round 3 pot of £60 million. Both e-government and IS projects will provide a valuable source of best practice for local government.

Through the beacon council scheme, councils can improve by learning from those who already provide excellent services. 39 councils, given beacon status in the second round of the scheme, are currently offering opportunities to develop services across 11 themes. Earlier this week—4 July 2001—we published an application brochure inviting further applications in the third round of the scheme. Evaluation studies are showing that the beacon scheme is making a positive contribution to the development of good practice.

The Department has embarked on a major programme to develop best practice in partnership working with public, private and voluntary sector organisations.

Jointly with the Local Government Association, we commissioned a Review of Local Government Procurement under Sir Ian Byatt. We have now received this report. It is an important contribution to the debate on the modernisation of local government and the provision of high quality services to local people. This report will stimulate the development of best practice in procurement.

Rockingham Speedway, Northamptonshire

Mr. Alan Duncan: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will hold a public inquiry into the process and procedures by which a series of planning consents has been granted for the construction of the Rockingham Speedway, Northamptonshire. [1783]

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Dr. Whitehead: A public inquiry will be held this September into the appeal by Rockingham Speedway against some of the conditions imposed by East Northamptonshire council in its permission of October last year. In addition, the council has resolved to take enforcement action to ensure compliance with other conditions. However the Department is not aware of any grounds to suggest the council's consideration of this case requires investigation.

Fire Contingency Arrangements

Mr. George Howarth: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what contingency arrangements he has made in the event of strike action by fire fighters on Merseyside; and if he will make a statement. [2129]

Dr. Whitehead: At the request of the Merseyside Fire and Civil Defence Authority, I have agreed with my right hon. Friend the armed forces Minister that armed forces personnel should provide emergency fire cover during any periods of strike action by firefighters on Merseyside.

Local Authority Boundaries

Mr. George Howarth: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what the terms of reference are for the boundary commission's current review of local government boundaries in Merseyside; and if he will make a statement. [2104]

Dr. Whitehead: All the Local Government Commission's periodic electoral reviews, including those of the Metropolitan borough councils in Merseyside starting in September, are undertaken in accordance with statutory requirements, including those of securing electoral equality (the number of electors represented by each councillor elected to the authority to be, as far as possible, the same in every ward) and effective and convenient local government, and to reflect the interests and identities of local communities.


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