Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 220-230)



  220. There was no warning about it before the Bill?
  (Mr Clark) I personally did not, no. That does not mean the LGA did not but I personally did not.

Christine Russell

  221. In two days' time when you meet Ministers—
  (Mr Clark) Do not quote me but I think it is two days.

  222. —Are you planning to ask them what is going to happen to the whole local government reform programme in the light of the break-up of DTLR? Are you convinced as a long-time professional in local government that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has the capacity to achieve what the Government wants it to achieve?
  (Mr Clark) I am as convinced of that as I was that Mr Byers would be able to give the time to local government when he had transport on his back. That may sound a cynical answer; it is not intended to be. It is still big. I suppose it was nice to see the title "Local Government" in a Ministry once upon a time but it came and went. I do not really have a great concern, to be honest with you.

Chris Grayling

  223. Can I ask on that point, given the whole scope of what is taking place at the moment—we have just had a Bill, now there is another Bill, we are going to have local government reorganisation through the regional government—is this not placing an intolerable burden on the management of local authorities?
  (Mr Clark) I certainly think it is stretching. We are not intending to indulge ourselves in the regional agenda save to say that my experience in York through having talked to colleagues—I arrived after the war had taken place, it was already a unitary—was that concentrating on structure paralyses service delivery for a considerable amount of time. I recall the Chairman of Nestlé UK based in York talking to me about reorganisations in general. He said he had never undertaken one that really delivered shareholder value and if things were not broken, trying to restructure them is an act of madness. He was referring to elected mayors and cabinets at the time!

Christine Russell

  224. This again may be a slightly premature question but the four categories referred in the White Paper are "high performing", "striving", "coasting" or "poor performing". Which would you apply to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister?
  (Mr Clark) This is a great one because I can judge this. They have changed it since the White Paper and there are now four or five. I do not know. I think it is rather unfair of me to judge a mewling infant. It is only been around for a few weeks and will not have got its act together yet, so may I come back in a little while?

  Sir Paul Beresford: When it needs its nappy changed!

Mrs Dunwoody

  225. You have just told us that there are five categories. If I arrived and wanted to do an inspection of your authority under four classifications which had only been there for a very short time and said, "I will come back in six months and tell you what category you have achieved," would you be surprised?
  (Mr Clark) We were treated in that way. When York was a new unitary, two inspections were put off because we were so new. It seemed perfectly reasonable and I was rather grateful at the time.

Christine Russell

  226. How do you think the proposals will impact on the relationship between local authorities and other government departments like Health and the Department for Education and Skills?
  (Mr Clark) Proposals with specific reference to CPA?

  227. No in general, not just CPA, the whole of the draft Bill?
  (Mr Clark) I am not sure. It is a question that I have not even considered. My initial view off the top of my head would be that part of it smacks as though it will not have much change at all. In terms of the overall judgment of authorities I have already said in reference to trading standards it is a sadness, but an understandable one, that if one is incapable of convincing the Department of Health and the DES of what one is doing, then you do not get a chance to convince anybody else about anything else. I suppose given it is 80 per cent of everything, it is possibly understandable.

Mrs Ellman

  228. Are there any further major changes or additions you would like to see in the Bill apart from the things you have mentioned?
  (Mr Clark) No nothing that I particularly raised. I have not had the opportunity to say that one good thing that is in the Bill is something I have personally believed in ever since I have been in the job, which is the idea that combined fire authorities should be precepting and should be accountable to their populations as opposed to being able to hide in a cupboard and plunder the budgets of local authorities in ways that are wholly impossible for the taxpayer to work out, and whoever put that in there would get wholehearted applause from every new unitary that I have ever come across.


  229. The Government has a commitment to the repeal of the old Clause 28 of notorious fame. Ought that be included in this legislation?
  (Mr Clark) That is a matter for them, not a matter for myself.

  Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very much for your evidence.

Mrs Dunwoody

  230. Do come back when you have considered the results.
  (Mr Clark) I will always come if invited, thank you.

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