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Regulatory Impact Unit

Dr. Cable: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many members of his Department have been employed in its regulatory impact unit in the past five years; and if he will make a statement. [65965]

Mr. Leslie: The new Departmental Regulatory Impact Unit was established in October 2001 and it works for both the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Department for Transport.

Figures for earlier years are not comparable with the current baseline due to the different policy responsibilities. The resource position for 1997–2001 were parts of a Grade 7, SEO, EO and AO.

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It is the job of Departmental Regulatory Impact Units to establish and promote the principles of good regulation in their Departments. The staff in each unit work closely with the officials responsible for developing policies within their Department and the Regulatory Impact Unit within the Cabinet Office. They focus on those regulations that impact on business, charities, the voluntary sector and public sector front line service deliverers.

Local Strategic Partnership, Walsall

David Winnick: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on accreditation of the local strategic partnership in Walsall. [68194]

Mr. Leslie: Following the decision last February that Walsall's LSP had made insufficient progress to warrant accreditation the partnership's development has been closely monitored. The role of stakeholders in the health, education, police, voluntary and private sectors has been crucial in driving development towards a viable structure and constitution for the partnership. The LSP is now ready to fulfil an important leadership role in the borough, and has now received its accreditation.

Departmental Energy Use

Mr. Stunell: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the estimated (a) level and (b) cost of energy use in his Department and associated agencies was in each year since 1997; what proportion of energy was generated from renewable sources; and if he will make a statement. [65960]

Mr. Leslie: My Department was formed on 29 May. For details of energy consumption and cost for the former Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, I refer the hon. Member to the answer given by the Minister for Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael), to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove on 3 July 2002, Official Report, column 384W.

Procurement of electricity from renewable sources in my Department began in October 2000 and from April 2002 some 40 per cent. of the Departments' total electricity usage was from a renewable source.

Ministerial Visits

Mr. Collins: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister on how many occasions during the last 12 months an official photographer has accompanied him on official visits (a) overseas and (b) within the UK; what (i) travel expenses, (ii) costs of equipment and processing, (iii) staff payment and (iv) other costs were incurred on each occasion; what publications official photographs have appeared in during the last 12 months and what terms and conditions were attached to the publication of such photographs; and whether photographs taken on official visits are available for use in non-governmental literature. [62834]

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: In the last 12 months the Deputy Prime Minister has not been accompanied by an official photographer on any visit, whether in the UK or overseas.

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Mr. Breed: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister (1) what proportion of rural local authorities have used bed and breakfast accommodation to house young people for each of the last 10 years, broken down by region; [66783]

Mr. McNulty: Detailed information on emergency accommodation and use of bed and breakfast accommodation for young people in rural districts is not collected centrally, and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

The new Homelessness Act 2002 will bring about radical change in the way that central and local government, and all other partners, work together to tackle homelessness in all parts of the country including rural areas. For the first time ever, local authorities will be required to carry out a review and develop a strategy for their area that prevents homelessness and provides solutions for people who are, or who may become, homeless. More specifically, the reviews required by the Homelessness Act will require authorities to estimate current and likely future levels of homelessness and audit provision for all forms of homelessness among young people.

In addition, the quarterly P1E return on which local authorities report activity under the homelessness legislation has been expanded to collect information about the average length of time spent by households in B and B hotels, and hostel style accommodation.

With effect from April 2002, the form has been further revised, both to seek finer detail about instances of harassment and violence leading to home loss and in anticipation of additional priority need categories proposed in the Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) Order 2002 which, subject to parliamentary approval, should come into effect at the end of July.

Grant Distribution

Paul Clark: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister when he will consult on reform of the system used to distribute grant to English local authorities; and if he will make a statement. [68477]

Mr. Raynsford: I am pleased to announce that we are today issuing a consultation document covering reform of the system we use to distribute grant to English local authorities. The consultation will run for 12 weeks over the summer. I have placed copies of the document in the Library of the House. It is being sent to all local authorities, as well as other stakeholders, and is available via the internet.

The system covers key services including education, personal social services, police, fire and a wider range of other responsibilities. It accounts for distribution of over 85 per cent. of the resources government provides for those services, currently about £36 billion per year. Its importance to local government, other stakeholders and

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public service delivery across the country means that we want a full and open public consultation on the new system.

The consultation document sets out the Government's broad objectives for the reform. Responses to the 2000 Local Government Finance Green Paper showed that a big majority of the local government respondents wanted the new system to continue to be based on formulae. The Government announced in the 2001 Local Government White Paper "Strong Local Leadership—Quality Public Services" that we agreed. We want new formulae that are fairer, simpler; more intelligible and more stable.

We are concerned to make sure that the new system is more easily understood that the old one. It is important to improve transparency and accountability. Clearly, it will never be possible to achieve a very simple system; the complexity of the issues it seeks to address see to that. The extremely technical nature of the issues means that there is frequently no clear-cut optimum solution. But we believe it is possible to make improvements.

In considering how to reflect local authorities' relative needs and circumstances, a range of factors have to be taken into account. Three elements seem fundamental:

Because deprivation and pay components are core drivers of the costs authorities face in most areas and the problems the system will need to address, we are particularly keen to see them separately identified in formulae. However, that is not to say that other components (for example sparsity) are unimportant. Indeed, they may be a key consideration in particular instances. They will be clearly identified where they form part of a formula.

The document sets out options for the various components. These options are detailed to the level of showing the effects on each relevant local authority, comparing against the baseline of 2002–03. This will enable authorities and other interested parties to form views about the desirability of each option.

However, these figures are not those that will appear in the 2003–04 local government finance settlement later this year. They will differ both because of changes in the overall funding totals (as a result of the spending review) and as a result of changes to data such as population that will not be available until the autumn. Waiting until that information is available would severely restrict the time available for consultation and in any case would not improve the consultation because we want responses to be about the system and the formulae, rather than on the basis of yearly variations in data. So the options are presented in terms of changes from the 2002–03 local government finance settlement.

We will not necessarily limit ourselves to building the new system from the choices specifically consulted upon here. It is likely that other options will be put forward in response to this consultation, and we will not exclude

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those before taking decisions. Our conclusions arising from the consultation and further consideration of options will be incorporated in the provisional settlement for 2003–04 that will be published at the usual time, towards the end of the year. Following a further period of consultation, final decisions will be announced in early 2003 in time to take effect in the 2003–04 financial year.

This is a difficult and important issue. The Government recognise that pragmatic decisions will be needed to produce a workable system, and the complexity and variety of the pressures that are put upon the system from all sides means that it will not be possible for all authorities to get what they want from this process. So no authority should feel that it is guaranteed to get a bigger share of the fixed amount of resources the system can distribute. But the Government are seeking a fairer distribution of resources which takes account of today's pressures on local government and the particular needs of areas of deprivation. We will consider all of the views that are put forward, and weigh them up carefully before decisions are taken.

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