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Rural Services

14. Mr. Rendel: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans he has to improve the ability of rural local authorities to provide services. [21570]

Dr. Whitehead: The Government have recently published a new Local Government White Paper, which sets out measures that should increase the ability of all local authorities to deliver services. These include some initiatives, such as new powers for local authorities to work together, which will particularly benefit rural authorities.

Planning

15. Mr. David Atkinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans he has to reform the planning system. [21571]

Mr. Byers: I launched last week our Green Paper proposing fundamental reforms to the planning system. We want to deliver a faster, fairer system, that places communities at the heart of the planning process. At the same time I published a consultation paper on fundamental reforms to arrangements for compulsory purchase.

This week I have published consultation papers on Parliamentary Procedures associated with planning applications for major infrastructure projects and on reform of the system of planning obligations.

Local Government Finance

16. Mrs. Anne Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans he has to reform local government finance. [21572]

Mr. Raynsford: The Government have set out radical proposals for reforming local government finance in the local government White Paper "Strong Local

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Leadership—Quality Public Services". Copies of the White Paper which has been very well received, have been placed in the House Library.

19. Ms Coffey: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans he has to reform local government finance. [21575]

20. Mr. Barnes: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans he has to reform local government finance. [21576]

Mr. Raynsford: The Government have set out radical proposals for reforming local government finance in the local government White Paper "Strong Local Leadership—Quality Public Services". Copies of the White Paper, which has been very well received, have been placed in the House Library.

Roadworks (Utilities)

18. Mr. Bill O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what guidance he gives to local authorities on minimising traffic disturbance connected to roadworks undertaken by utilities; and if he will make statement. [21574]

Mr. Byers: Authorities must co-ordinate works to minimise inconvenience to road users, and utilities must co-operate with them. Guidance is given in a code of practice on co-ordination and in "Best Practice in Street Works and Highway Works", published by my Department in conjunction with the Highway Authorities and Utilities Committee.

Train Delays

21. Mr. Robathan: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what percentage of trains were subject to delay in (a) September and (b) November. [21577]

Mr. Jamieson: The rail industry is monitored by four-weekly periods, not calendar months. In the period from 19 August to 13 October, 78.7 per cent. of services were punctual. In the period from 14 October to 10 November, the last period for which figures are available, 72.3 per cent. of services were punctual.

Council House Sales

22. Ian Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will take steps to allow the phased release of receipts from council house sales to the appropriate local authorities. [21578]

Ms Keeble: The requirement for a proportion of housing capital receipts to be set-aside to offset debt allows a greater share of new investment to be targeted at areas of highest need. Last week's Local Government White Paper set out our intention to retain this requirement in England. The National Assembly for Wales will be consulting separately on changes to the Welsh local government finance system, which will cover this issue.

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Housing (Deprived Areas)

23. Mr. Anthony D. Wright: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans he has to improve public housing in areas of high deprivation. [21579]

Ms Keeble: We have made a commitment to bring all social housing up to a decent standard by 2010 with a reduction of one third being made by 2004. Most of the reduction in the period up to 2004 will be in deprived areas. This objective is supported by the substantial element of targeting of resources to deprived areas incorporated within the needs indices which underpin resource allocation.

Transport (Christmas)

24. Kevin Brennan: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans he has to maintain the effective operation of the transport system during the Christmas period. [21580]

Mr. Jamieson: This is a matter for operators of public transport services. I understand that most public transport services will not operate on Christmas day, and very restricted services will run on Boxing day. For the rest of the holiday period, services will operate either normal or reduced timetables, according to the anticipated demand. No problems are expected on the road network.

Rail Investment

25. Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what recent assessment he has made of the progress made with investment programmes within the rail sector. [21581]

Mr. Jamieson: We believe that our current public expenditure plans will deliver the rail investment programmes provided for in the 10-Year Plan for Transport.

Business Rates (Domestic Properties)

26. Mr. Hendry: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans he has to exempt office space in domestic properties from business rates. [21582]

Dr. Whitehead: None. Business rates will be payable only where part of a domestic property is separately identifiable as being used as office space or for other non-domestic purposes. The remainder of the property will remain subject to council tax, although a reduction may be made to the property's banding to reflect the change in use of part of it.

Unitary Authorities (Coastal Towns)

27. Mr. Sanders: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what recent assessment he has made of the performance of unitary authorities in seaside and coastal towns. [21583]

Dr. Whitehead: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made no assessment of the performance of unitary authorities. We are putting in place a comprehensive performance assessment framework for all councils building on existing audit, inspections and assessments,

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including assessments of corporate capabilities. These assessments will be compiled by the Audit Commission with assistance from other inspectorates.

Electoral Reform

29. Mr. Tyler: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans he has to establish an independent body to review the electoral system for local government elections in England. [21585]

Dr. Whitehead: The Government have already established the independent Electoral Commission. This will be looking at various aspects of the electoral system for local elections, including the effective and efficient conduct of such elections and the use of innovatory pilot schemes. From 1 April 2002, the Electoral Commission will also take responsibility for the review of local electoral area boundaries and the number of councillors elected by those areas.

Car Free Day

30. Mr. Challen: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what involvement his Department had in European car free day 2001. [21586]

Ms Keeble: On 19 September the UK Government signed a pledge, drawn up by the European Commission, to promote European "In town without my car" day to local authorities. On 20 September we wrote to the Local Government Association and to the Devolved Administrations setting out our position.

Train Services

32. Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will make a statement on levels of reliability of train services; and what the levels were (a) one and (b) two years ago. [21589]

Mr. Jamieson: Reliability of train services may be defined as the percentage number of services that ran against the published timetable. On that basis:



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