Examination of Witness (Questions 200-219)|
TUESDAY 9 JULY 2002
200. I would imagine that you have been as direct
and as forthright with the Minister as you have been with this
Committee. If so, what has been the response from the Minister?
(Mr Clark) Very polite.
201. And the Civil Service?
(Mr Clark) With respect to Mr Raynsford, not just
I but a lot of my serving colleagues who are far wiser than I
have been out of the industry, in a sense, now for nearly two
years. Actually it went quite well. They were also quite able
to come up with some rather good reasons why some of these things
are as they are, but I see from your agenda you will have the
opportunity to ask him, so I will not tell you what he said to
202. Would you like Best Value to be scrapped
(Mr Clark) No, I do not think so. I think it just
needs to be calmed down a little bit and to be rolled into the
CPA process. I think the idea particularly of a challenge"Why
do you think this? Why do you have a role? Is it your health strategy,
is it your greening strategy or whatever?"is actually
a perfectly reasonable one. My regret is that it has become professionalised,
and I think we could calm it down a little bit.
203. How do you view the Bill in total?
(Mr Clark) A fine part of the jigsaw, and the direction
of travel is okay, but of itself no major changes.
204. You would not say a missed opportunity?
(Mr Clark) I did say a missed opportunity. I said
that in my memorandum, I think. I think it is a missed opportunity
from my point of view, but then I am not accountable to the House
of Commons or indeed to other parts of Government.
205. A missed opportunity according to SOLACE
(Mr Clark) Yes indeed, that is my view.
206. Not SOLACE's view?
(Mr Clark) Sorry, let me answer that. It is not me,
it is SOLACE's view.
207. To return to one of the issues which you
found some favour withthe prudential guidelineswhere
we have Clause 4 lurking around and the possible powers (though
we have not seen the final drafting) that that would give to the
Government, are you concerned about that? Do you think that it
ought to be amended in any way?
(Mr Clark) Yes, but I am no expert in how it could
be, I do not intend to be, and generally I am not. I am not trying
to dodge the question. It seems to me that regulations defining
what words mean and regulations that in that particular clause
seem to indicate "We're giving with one hand but we'll take
away with the other" are regrettable. I think it is characterised
by something to do with lack of trust. Also, to be honest with
you, it is local government's own fault, because I think far too
often local government will go to the Civil Service and say, "What
does that mean? Show us the regulations", to which I say,
"Why didn't you keep your mouth shut? Why ask a question
to which you do not wish to know the answer? If it seems reasonable
to you, go with that." So on both sides it is still a bit
of "I don't want to be told, but will you just show me what
it all means, please?", and I think we have all got to learn
something from that.
208. Is not that a useful way of just putting
off taking a decision as well?
(Mr Clark) I think there is certainly an element of
dog-on-the-leash syndrome, yes; that whilst on the one hand there
are those who believe that local government and local democracy
should be greatly empowered, there are those who are frightened
by the power and responsibility that gives. That must be right.
Sir Paul Beresford
209. Has not the Government got a double leash
on this dog? You have Clause 4 which we have discussed very briefly.
The reality is that capital will be linked to revenue and revenue
is linked to the amount that the Government allows. Anyone who
needs to predict ahead cannot predict 20 or 40 years ahead in
local government, because the revenue cannot be predicted.
(Mr Clark) That is still the case, it most certainly
210. So saying that capital is free is part
of the problem?
(Mr Clark) I hope I was clear that for me it is not
a complete free-ing up, but it is that the direction of travel
211. You have cornered right, but the traffic
is still there?
(Mr Clark) To a large extent, though having said which,
given that I have never yet met anybody who understands the process
of local government capitalwith respect, I am seeing someone
in the corner who does understand local government capital, and
I do include myself in the August band of those who do notany
system which appears to be trying to be more transparent and simplified
should be welcomed.
212. You say it is a move in the right direction,
is that right?
(Mr Clark) Yes.
213. I think he said it was a moving jigsaw.
(Mr Clark) Absolutely, it is always possible.
214. How do you and SOLACE view the proposals
on capital receipts then, which seem to be a move away from the
local authorities to spend the receipts they get from the sale
of their own assets?
(Mr Clark) I think, to be honest with you, SOLACE
does not have a view on that. That is mainly because members of
SOLACE have very mixed views on that.
215. What are the mixed views?
(Mr Clark) It is quite simple; some say that that
is quite reasonable and some say it is not!
Chris Grayling: Which is which?
216. Have you taken a vote?
(Mr Clark) We do not do things like that. It depends
on the position of authorities, does it not? If one is a unitary
authority there are different issues and so on and so forth. So
you will notice from ours that we have not taken a view on that
and I for one am not in a position to answer too many questions
217. Is there not a danger that the authority
will come not to the best decision but the decision that fits
the system the best when they look at the possibly disposal of
land which might be beneficial as part of a re-development, in
that they may want to buy another piece of land instead, and they
are going to decide not to do it if they are going to have to
give up part of the receipts and they have not got the money to
buy that piece of land? Does that that sort of thing not lead
(Mr Clark) Of course it does. There is no question
that there is not a free market with councils trading in particular
ways. Nevertheless, I stick to my view that a good percentage
of our members seem to think there is an element of reasonableness
in that, a large percentage think there is not.
218. That leads me to another issue where certainly
there seems to be some concern that perhaps we may be moving away
from freedom for local authorities. There has been quite a lot
of pressure from local government to raise the percentage of the
total monies they raise locally, yet by merging the business rate
and the revenue support grant it appears that the Government is
almost removing the main possibility of transferring back to local
authorities the right to raise a significant part extra of their
(Mr Clark) Yes, that must be true. SOLACE has not
a view but I have so I do not mind sharing that with you, which
I think that it is very regrettable. My own view is that the non-domestic
rate does better sit with the local authority for a particular,
peculiar reason, which is that I can remember very many times
where local authorities would have liked to have been able to
reduce rating on certain businesses in areas or zones or whatever
for economic development purposes. It seems to me that some of
this is mired in the history of 1980s conflict which is now really
past. It is a sadness that that trust does not exist. I suppose
we have not commented on that since I may be wholly incorrect
in this, but I have taken the view that trying to argue for the
return of the national non-domestic rate is something I shall
do in my retirement because it really is not something I can apply
myself to since I do not believe it is ever likely to happen.
219. Do you or any colleague chief officers
have any explanation as to why the Government intends to amalgamate?
(Mr Clark) I have not. Since the draft Bill came out
I have not been in a position to talk to either officials or Ministers
although I am doing so in two days' time.