Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)
LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON, QC, MS SALLY KEEBLE, MS JOYCE BRIDGES AND MR PETER MATTHEW
TUESDAY 21 MAY 2002
120. If we are interested in litter, the majority of litter is not dropped by the yobs, is it? It is by all sorts of individuals, sometimes supposedly responsible ones.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I have a note that says, "Michael Meacher in yesterday's Guardian" so I assume that is a reference to litter and plastic bags.
121. I was really after your interest in trying to get rid of some of this problem of litter, which is making all sorts of people care about it.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The Keep Britain Tidy campaign has had quite an important role to play
122. It is useless. Convince me.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton)in helping us draw up the cross-cutting review. One of the things that is really important is to measure how successful you are being in relation to keeping streets tidy. It is implicit in the whole of the questioning. How do you get money to do the things that we want to be done like keeping parks and streets clean? You only get money for those things if you have a means of measuring how well it is going on. One of the things the cross-cutting review is focusing on is how do we measure who is doing well; how do we get money to those places that are not doing well but have a good way of making it better and how do we reward people who are doing well.
123. On litter, your Department has some photographs which show whether you can expect your are to be looked at daily, weekly or monthly and what standards should be achieved.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Photographs that the Department have kept from me so far.
124. It is in these manuals, guidance as to what local authorities should do and what expectations there should be.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I shall look at those photographs. In the regeneration field, in Barton Hill, which is a New Deal for Communities area, they have changed the arrangements for cleaning the neighbourhood. Instead of there being 88 separate employees of the out-sourced company that does maintenance and cleaning for Bristol, a team of seven or eight people are dedicated full time to Barton Hill. The consequence of that in terms of cleanliness, litter and rubbish collection has been to transform Barton Hill from the area which was the worst one in terms of complaints to the area which has the fewest complaints. The management of the issue, how it is addressed, identifying who has been successful and who has not, targeting money in the right place are the sorts of things that we need to do. Those are precisely the issues that the cross-cutting review is looking at.
125. The green spaces task force report highlights that responsibilities for green spaces are spread between several government departments but was scathing about the inadequate coordination that exists between those departments. The Committee are quite pleased that the spending review has, for the first time, been cross-departmental. How are you going to make sure that the impetus behind the urban green spaces task force report and cross-departmental working on public space which has been brought about by SR2002 will continue and perhaps not be kicked into the high grass?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The cross-cutting review exemplifies the fact that, as a matter of cross-government, we recognise that there needs to be an interdepartmental approach to this. The cross cutting arrangements which involved in effect setting up a group of ministers supported by interdepartmental officials have to continue beyond the process of the spending review itself. The interdepartmental grouping will continue. The group of ministers will continue. As I said in my opening remarks, we will publish an action plan in the autumn about what we are going to do because we accept the proposition that coordination needs to be greatly improved because it is a cross-government issue.
126. You truly believe that this interdepartmental coordination will continue?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, I do.
127. In the short and long term?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, and I think it is vital that it does. You cannot address the issue of the public realm without including, for example, the DCMS's responsibilities, DTLR's responsibilities and DEFRA's as well.
128. Who will monitor the progress?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is a matter for decisions to be made about how it is done but ultimately there will need to be a group of ministers who bring it together.
129. I have been searching for but failing to find any reference to the quality of the public ground, particularly in the historic environment. A problem exists with public utilities who dig up pavements where they have all had traditional surfaces relayed, put a strip of tarmac in and stick up their poles with very inappropriate signage on them. Is that an issue that you have looked at?
(Ms Keeble) This report is just about green spaces so it would not deal with the street works issues. The overcharging policies and street works powers that are coming in in terms of lane rentals deal not just with the timetabling for the work being done but also with the quality of the restoration which is particularly important when you are looking at some of these very high quality, expensive paving schemes that some people are putting into their public spaces.
130. A lot of local authorities would welcome greater powers to curb the excesses of some of the public utilities. Are you prepared to look at that?
(Ms Keeble) There was quite a lot of that dealt with previously about the lane rentals and the fact that those were just starting and the need to look at those. We have not yet had the first report on the monitoring of the section 74 powers which are for overstaying but there is a real issue about the quality of the restoration and that is very specific in the lane rentals regulations that were debated last year, which say that the work is only finished not just once the hole is filled in but once the restitution is to standard and it is much more prescriptive about insisting on he quality, which is obviously very important.
131. On the subject of coordinating public works and digging up public spaces by private utilities and local authorities, I thought the rules had been changed so that people did not try to push all this through towards the end of the financial year, to prevent it all taking place at the same time. Could you give me any indication if the government has taken any action to prevent so much work taking place at the same time, causing gridlock in London?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I have heard the same, but I cannot give the detail. Could I get back to you in relation to that?
132. We have best value indicators as far as green space is concerned. Are we going to have best value indicators as far as the quality of public space is concerned?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We need to look at that. What is emerging is that you need a basket of indicators that produces one conclusion at the end of it, because there are so many aspects to it like pedestrian safety, cleanliness, litter, graffiti, safety on the streets etc; so a basket of indicators producing a score at the end of it is the sort of way the thinking is going at the moment.
133. Knocking gently on the door of the Treasury to get a little bit of money, you have the data on how neglected our parks are. What about the evidence that everybody claims but does not seem to have concrete evidence of that good public spaces, parks and things like that are of a benefit to health? They reduce crime. They have educational benefits. Did you get round to getting the data that proves those points?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We have some data and that appeared in the first cross-cutting review report. To describe it as proof would be quite difficult because the causal connection between health and the existence of a park are quite difficult. We accept the basic proposition that good public realm encourages good health, increases economic activity and reduces crime.
134. Can you tell us exactly where we are up to with the Green Spaces Agency?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) A steering group has been set up with a view to considering what steps should be taken in relation to the creation of such an agency.
135. When is this steering going to reach some point?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We are going to respond to the green space task force in July and we will indicate in our response our view in relation to the agency.
136. Does that mean that you might be suggesting that what you recommended in the task force does not go ahead?
(Ms Keeble) There is going to be a meeting of the Committee before the end of June. That follows on exactly what the task force suggested. In terms of the government's response, we will have the benefit of that to look at but a decision on that has to wait for the government response in July.
137. There is just a possibility that you could still say no to yourself?
(Ms Keeble) Yes. It would leave me in a difficult position, I agree.
138. You are ever hopeful?
(Ms Keeble) The recommendation of setting up the Committee is being carried forward in record speed and there are very powerful arguments for the agency. However, the task force was not able in the time it had to draw up the exact specifications for an agency.
139. Where is the public space strategy going from now on?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Do you mean the cross-cutting review?