Members present:

Andrew F Bennett, in the Chair
Sir Paul Beresford
Mr Clive Betts
Mr John Cummings
Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody
Mrs Louise Ellman
Mr Chris Grayling
Ms Oona King
Miss Anne McIntosh
Dr John Pugh
Christine Russell


RT HON NICK RAYNSFORD, a Member of the House, (Minister for Local Government and the Regions), examined.


  1. Could I welcome you to the second part of our sessions on the departmental estimates. I must apologise to you that, at about 11.30, I have to leave because of a hospital appointment, so Gwyneth Dunwoody will take over at that point. Would you identify yourself for the record, please.
  2. (Mr Raynsford) I am Nick Raynsford, Minister for Local Government and the Regions in the Department of Transport Local Government and the Regions and the only Minister who was serving in the old DETR whose annual report you are considering.

  3. Is there anything else that you want to say by way of introduction or are you happy for us to go straight into questions?
  4. (Mr Raynsford) I am happy to go straight into questions.

    Mrs Ellman

  5. Which government department and which minister is really responsible for the regions?
  6. (Mr Raynsford) The framework for developing regional policy places the overall responsibility with the Deputy Prime Minister and he is working in very close co-operation with our department in order to produce a White Paper which we intend to publish in the early part of next year and that will be presented to Parliament by the Deputy Prime Minister with the full support of the Secretary for Transport Local Government and the Regions.

  7. Before we come on to ask questions about that, would you answer the question that I put to you which is, who is actually responsible for the regions? Before we have the White Paper there are still regions, so who is actually in charge of what happens to the regions or is there nobody?
  8. (Mr Raynsford) Inevitably there are different perspectives throughout government, but we accept a collective responsibility in terms of the development of regional policy and that is the framework that I have already outlined.

  9. When you talk of collective responsibility for regional development, you are not pointing to any individual or any department. Is there anybody in government who is responsible for looking at issues like disparity between regions, how regional policy, or lack of it, is affecting services or the welfare of different regions? Is there anybody who actually has a remit for the regions?
  10. (Mr Raynsford) As I said in response to the earlier question, there are different perspectives. On your specific point about regional economic disparities, the DTI would obviously take a lead role. They have responsibility currently for regional development agencies which used to lie with our department but, as Minister for the Regions, I clearly have a very real interest in issues such as the one you have discussed, but the wider framework of regional governance, both now and the future pattern of regional governance which we will propose in our forthcoming White Paper.

  11. When you say that the DTI have the lead role, how does that react with DTLR's responsibility on funding?
  12. (Mr Raynsford) There are different funding streams which go into the regions from different government departments, in the same way that there are different funding streams that go into local government from the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Health and other government departments as well as DTLR and we work together to ensure an appropriate collective responsibility.

  13. What assessment have you made on the progress of regional assemblies and regional chambers as they are at the moment? Who is responsible for making that assessment?
  14. (Mr Raynsford) The current framework, as you know, was set up during the last parliament and it was felt right that, in the absence of directly elected regional assemblies, there should be chambers, which are sometimes called assemblies, which should have a monitoring role in relation to regional development agencies and that is the framework which currently exists. We will be publishing, as I have already mentioned, a White Paper setting out our proposals for allowing those regions which wish to elect -

  15. Could you answer the question. Who at this moment is responsible for assessing the progress of the regional chambers as they exist now?
  16. (Mr Raynsford) We are overall responsible for the policy in relation to -

  17. Who is assessing the progress of those chambers?
  18. (Mr Raynsford) The chambers have only recently come into existence. We have been responsible for giving them a -

  19. Two years - who is responsible for assessing their progress?
  20. (Mr Raynsford) We have been responsible for providing initial funding for the regions -

  21. No, who is responsible for assessing the progress?
  22. (Mr Raynsford) We are assessing their progress.

  23. So you are responsible for assessing the progress of the chambers?
  24. (Mr Raynsford) Indeed but, as I pointed out earlier, there are issues relating to regional development which will also be the concern of over government departments and I would expect, very obviously, the DTI to take a particular interest in relation to economic development problems.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  25. So the Deputy Prime Minister calls all these ministers together in special groups and says, "Because we have joint responsibility, this is how we are going to proceed"?
  26. (Mr Raynsford) The Deputy Prime Minister has overall responsibility for the development of the new policy framework.

  27. And he has done that?
  28. (Mr Raynsford) He is doing this.

  29. And he calls them together, all of them across the board, in order to assess what is happening?
  30. (Mr Raynsford) The Deputy Prime Minister obviously operates in the way that he chooses to operate.

  31. In other words he has not.
  32. (Mr Raynsford) I have met regularly with the Deputy Prime Minister to discuss the way that we are handling our approach to the regions.

  33. That is not what I asked.
  34. (Mr Raynsford) I honestly do not think that I am in a position to answer that question.


  35. On the question of assessing, can you tell us which ones are doing well and which ones you are disappointed with?
  36. (Mr Raynsford) As I said in response to the question, these are very early stages. We have just made awards of 0.5 million to each of the chambers or assemblies to enable them to set up appropriate machinery to monitor the work of the RDAs, to liaise with other bodies in the region and to enable them to fulfill their functions. It would be premature for me to give a snapshot judgment on the performance of bodies that are only in a very, very early stage of their development.

    Mrs Ellman

  37. Does that mean that nobody has actually made an assessment of their progress to date?
  38. (Mr Raynsford) As I was saying, I think it would be premature to try and produce an over-definitive view of the performance of bodies which are just coming into existence.

  39. Has any assessment been made as to the progress of those chambers to date?
  40. (Mr Raynsford) We have looked at the work that they are doing and we have assessed that in the course of preparing the grants that we have issued to those bodies, but I would not pretend for a moment that that was a rigorous and definitive assessment for the reasons I have explained.

    Sir Paul Beresford

  41. Is that the only source of finance? What is the total annual cost?
  42. (Mr Raynsford) I would have to seek further advice on the detailed total annual cost but the main source of funding is from our department, yes.

  43. Is that possible?
  44. (Mr Raynsford) Of course. I will write to you.

    Mrs Ellman

  45. When will the White Paper on elected assemblies be issued?
  46. (Mr Raynsford) As I have already said, we hope to publish early in the new year.


  47. Can you define "early" a little more precisely?
  48. (Mr Raynsford) I cannot.

    Mrs Ellman

  49. Could you tell us what will be in that White Paper.
  50. (Mr Raynsford) I can certainly outline the broad thrust of the White Paper. It will give effect to our Manifesto commitment to allow those regions which express, through a referendum, a wish to have an elected regional assembly the opportunity to do so, so it will clearly set out the way in which the approach to that referendum takes place. In other words, what triggers it and how the referendum will be conducted. It will then go on to spell out the type of body, how it would be elected, the electoral system, the representation on the body, and the total numbers and arrangements for involving social and economic partners. It would also obviously define the powers and remit and the funding -

    Mrs Dunwoody

  51. Social and economic partners? What is the difference?
  52. (Mr Raynsford) That is a phrase that has been fairly widely used to cover a range of organisations including business, trade unions and voluntary organisations, all of which would have an interest in the work of the regional assembly.

    Mrs Dunwoody: People?

    Mrs Ellman

  53. When do you expect the first elections to the regional assemblies to be held?
  54. (Mr Raynsford) It would be too soon to give a definitive answer to that, but I have already indicated that, if we maintain the timetable that we are working to, it should be possible, if a region votes in a referendum for an elected regional assembly, for one to be up and running before the end of this Parliament.

    Sir Paul Beresford

  55. If a referendum turnout is exceptionally low, which would not surprise a number of us, say below 35 per cent, would you still count it as valid?
  56. (Mr Raynsford) We have experience of referendums in Scotland, in Wales and -

    Mrs Dunwoody

  57. And also the results.
  58. (Mr Raynsford) ... and in Greater London. In none of those cases did we apply a threshold. The turnout did vary quite significantly between those three separate bodies but the problem with a threshold was made rather clear in the later 1970s when a threshold was applied in relation to Scotland which resulted in the aspirations for devolution in Scotland being deferred for some 20 years, although the Scots had voted by a majority in favour of devolution at that date. So there are difficult issues here.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  59. It might not be a good example, Minister.
  60. (Mr Raynsford) It may not but it is one of the examples I have to look at when framing the proposals in -

    Sir Paul Beresford

  61. We could possibly learn from our mistakes recently in the three that you read through quickly.
  62. (Mr Raynsford) I think the people of Scotland and Wales undoubtedly feel that there are considerable benefits from the establishment of devolved government with governance within their countries and I certainly feel that the framework in London for the governance of London is a considerable improvement on the situation that followed the abolition of the GLC which left London alone of all cities in the developed world -

  63. That was not the question.
  64. (Mr Raynsford) ... without its own democratic city-wide government.

  65. We could argue that for ages but it was not the question.
  66. (Mr Raynsford) No, but it was my answer.

    Mr Cummings

  67. I am more confused now, Minister, than I was when I came into the meeting! I represent a constituency in the shire county, County Durham. Should we move towards local government, in the shire county we are going to have parish councils, district councils, county councils, parliaments, British Parliament, European Parliament and the regional assemblies. Do you really think this makes sense in an age when we are trying to curtail and streamline? There is certainly in my area no enthusiasm whatsoever to move towards regional government until you have sorted out local government and that means looking towards perhaps European authorities. Can you give us some idea what your vision is for the future. When do you intend to examine in some detail the future role of local authorities? There just seems to me no direction whatsoever. I fail to see how we can move rationally towards regional assemblies of any meaning until local government itself has some meaning and purpose of direction.
  68. (Mr Raynsford) This is one of the big issues that will be covered in the White Paper and let me just spell out the reasons why it is a particularly important and difficult issue. You have rightly highlighted the fact that, if there were simply the creation of a further tier of government on top of the existing ones, that would appear to be creating an unnecessarily large number of tiers of government -

    Sir Paul Beresford

  69. As in London.
  70. (Mr Raynsford) That is not the same as London because they are only unitary authorities in London. The second consideration is that the experience of the early 1990s was that the process of local government reorganisation, the Banham Commission, was seen as a not entirely happy event in which a great deal of time, energy and effort was exhausted by local authorities concerned about their future and I think it is fair to say that attention was taken away from what we regard as the highest priority, which is ensuring efficient service delivery, and we have no intention of returning to a large-scale reorganisation of local government on the Banham scale. We just believe that that would be a distraction from the main priority of raising standards of service delivery in local government. However, it is the case that our Manifesto says that we envisage the opportunity for the creation of regional government to apply in those regions with predominantly unitary patterns of local government.

    Mr Cummings

  71. Minister, as a government, are you not going to give a definite lead on what is a very confusing situation at the moment? Are you going to scrap county councils?
  72. (Mr Raynsford) No, we are not going to scrap county councils and, as I have already said in my answer, it would be, in my view, a serious disruption to embark on a wholesale review of local government in England.

  73. You have been quite specific that you do not intend to scrap county councils. Therefore, if we move towards regional government in the north-east of England, the shire counties will be six tiers of government.
  74. (Mr Raynsford) No. What I have said is that the commitment in our Manifesto is to allow the opportunity for regions that vote for it in a referendum to have an elected regional assembly but this should apply only in regions with a predominantly unitary pattern of local government. There must therefore be a mechanism for considering whether or not that test is satisfied.

  75. What mechanism will be used?
  76. (Mr Raynsford) That will be spelt out in the White Paper, as I have said. If I can just paint the context. We know at the moment that, in Yorkshire and Humberside, about 89 per cent of the population are living in unitary authorities. That might be considered to be a predominantly unitary pattern of local government. In the north-east and north-west, around two-thirds of the population are living in unitary authority areas. In other parts of the country, it is very different. In the eastern region, less than 20 per cent of the population live in unitary authorities. Therefore, there will inevitably be a need to approach this issue in a way that takes account of those very significant regional variations and that, as I said, is one of the difficult issues. I have openly shared with the Committee the potential difficulties there, the conflict between the commitment to have a predominantly unitary framework if regional tiers of government are introduced as against the disruption caused by an extensive review and reorganisation of local government which would divert attention away from prime priority of efficient service delivery.

  77. Has the department carried out an evaluation of the effect of using the power mix of two-tier unitary authorities?
  78. (Mr Raynsford) We are constantly assessing the performance of local government at all tiers and that is -

  79. Time is running very short here, Minster.
  80. (Mr Raynsford) The overriding priority, as I have already said, is to ensure that local government, in all its forms, delivers high quality services and the experience of the Banham Review in the early 1990s was that a disproportionate amount of time and energy was spent on considering reorganisation which did not help local authorities to deliver services efficiently and which caused very, very expensive changes in structure and organisation. We have no wish to repeat that experience.


  81. Very expensive? Can you tell us how much it cost?
  82. (Mr Raynsford) I cannot offhand but I could certainly get the figures and send them to you.

    Mr Betts

  83. Can I ask you about what you said regarding the situation in North Yorkshire. What you were saying to the Committee this morning was that, in North Yorkshire, even though it is predominantly two-tier, because it happens to sit in a region where the rest of the region is unitary, it might well be okay for them to proceed to regional authority in their current situation without any change to local government circumstances. In Norfolk, a similar sort of county, predominantly or wholly two-tier, because that happens to sit in a region where most of the rest of the counties are two-tier as well, it is inappropriate for them to proceed -
  84. (Mr Raynsford) What I am saying is that this is one of the issues that has to be covered and will be covered in the White Paper because we are approaching this in a very pragmatic way. We are not trying to impose a blueprint and say that a single pattern must apply everywhere. Implicit in our pledge that regional governance will only be introduced where people vote for it in a referendum is the assumption that some regions will opt for it and others will not. That therefore does inevitably mean variation between the patterns of government in different regions.

  85. Some regions may opt for it and, in opting for it, the eastern regions may say "north of this county" and then having implemented it - presumably there is going to be a test about what predominantly means - if they are going to go through the procedure, it is a very expensive local government change ...
  86. (Mr Raynsford) I think that flows automatically from the proposition that I put and I would accept that interpretation, but all I would say is that we do not at the moment have very much evidence of any great appetite in the eastern region for a regional assembly. We know by contrast in the north-east and in some of the other northern regions, there is significant interest in the possibility.

    Mr Cummings

  87. Significant interest, Minister, from whom?
  88. (Mr Raynsford) I have had meetings, the Deputy Prime Minister has had meetings, my colleagues in the Cabinet Office have had meetings with a range of people in -

  89. All of whom have a vested interest in promoting regional government.
  90. (Mr Raynsford) No.

  91. What evidence is there from the ordinary man and woman in the street?
  92. (Mr Raynsford) This will be one of the issues that will be tested in the referendum which is why the Government have been absolutely clear that there must be endorsement through a referendum of all the electors if this is to proceed, but I have to say that it is not only the people with a vested interest who I have met. I have met people with very different points of view, but I have to say that I have noticed in the northern regions of the country a greater appetite for regional assemblies than I have in other regions of the country.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  93. If you do not define how many people constitutes an adequate response, you could get an extremely low turnout which just happened to produce a yes rather than a no result and you are telling us you would go ahead on that basis?
  94. (Mr Raynsford) No, that is one of the issues that will be covered in the White Paper, but I did point out the equal and opposite problems that flow from setting an arbitrary threshold which can result in the democratic wish of people being frustrated because they did not meet that threshold, even though there was a clear majority in favour of that option.


  95. So you are telling us that there will be a threshold but that you are now wrestling with the problems of what would be the appropriate threshold.
  96. (Mr Raynsford) No, I am not saying that there will be a threshold at all. The issue of whether there will be a threshold is one of the issues that will be covered in the White Paper. We did not have a threshold for Scotland, Wales or Greater London, so that might be seen as a precedent. We do not have a threshold for election to this House, even though some members are elected, particularly in by-elections, on very, very low percentages. I think that is something that has to be borne in mind.

    Sir Paul Beresford

  97. Will the referendum be a one-off in each region or will there be repeats until such time as you have achieved your target?
  98. (Mr Raynsford) There is no purpose in that sense other than to give each region of the country the opportunity, if it so wishes, to have a referendum on this subject. That will involve a trigger mechanism, as I have mentioned, and that clearly will have to be considered and will be considered in the White Paper, but it will depend on the region voting in favour of it. If there is a vote against, there will then obviously need to be some terms limiting opportunities for repeat votes which would be unnecessary or counterproductive in terms of time and effort and again we will consider in the White Paper whether there should be a limitation on subsequent -

  99. In that case, what about a referendum the other way?
  100. (Mr Raynsford) The objective will be to establish the opportunity for regional assemblies where people wish to have it. If they do not wish to have it, they will vote against in the referendum and there will not be a regional assembly.


  101. What happens if, say, after three years, the people want to get rid of it? They will not have the chance.
  102. (Mr Raynsford) That is the consequence of voting for a structure and people will be aware of that when they cast their vote in the same way as in Scotland and Wales when they voted for having a parliament or assembly, they were aware that that was the consequence.

    Mr Betts

  103. Is there going to be a referendum in every region?
  104. (Mr Raynsford) Referendums will be held where the region indicates through an appropriate trigger mechanism which will be covered in the White Paper.

  105. Through a referendum?
  106. (Mr Raynsford) My difficulty, as you will know, is that, until the White Paper is published, I cannot obviously give definitive answers.

  107. So there will not automatically be one in each region?
  108. (Mr Raynsford) There will not necessarily be a referendum in each region, no, because if there is not a triggering of the wish for a referendum, no referendum will be held. A referendum will be held where people locally, through the appropriate trigger mechanism that we establish in the White Paper, indicate a wish to have a referendum.

  109. In terms of boundaries, are they going to be, as per the RDA boundaries, any changes to be considered?
  110. (Mr Raynsford) This is another controversial issue which will be covered in the White Paper. There is a strong presumption in favour of working within existing boundaries because the consequences of opening up the issue of whether boundaries should be changed is clearly a very controversial one. When I was in Cumbria recently, there were some people who were strong advocates of Cumbria remaining associated with the north-west and others who felt that part of Cumbria might more appropriately lie with the north-east. The conclusion that I came to from my discussions was that the northern part of Cumbria probably felt more comfortable with the north-east and the southern part broadly more comfortable with the north-west.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  111. So what was your solution, Minister?
  112. (Mr Raynsford) I had no solution but our White Paper will set out the framework in which we intend to proceed.

    Mrs Dunwoody: As to that, we will think of it in the future!

    Mr Betts

  113. There are a number of problems, are there not?
  114. (Mr Raynsford) Yes.

  115. Devon and Cornwall think they are in a different country let alone region.
  116. (Mr Raynsford) Exactly.

  117. And I have in mind Sheffield where the regional boundary goes slap bang through a travel to work area which is not the most sensible way for a region to approach planning, is it?
  118. (Mr Raynsford) I agree that there are inevitably anomalies and the south-east is probably the greatest of all where there are very real questions as to what does constitute a viable region in the south-east. However, as I indicated, the opening up of these questions is a veritable Pandora's Box which could entirely divert energy and attention from the main issue into a great deal of squabbling which would be reminiscent of the activities of the Banham years in terms of local government reorganisation.

    Mr Cummings

  119. That is something that I was very much involved in and there was confusion at the time which emanated from lack of direction through central government.
  120. (Mr Raynsford) Exactly.

  121. And that certainly did not give me any encouragement that we have changed our tactics.
  122. (Mr Raynsford) I have indicated that this issue will be covered in the White Paper but, as you would expect, I am not free to reveal the contents of that White Paper before it is published.

    Mrs Dunwoody: Even if you knew what they were!

    Mr Betts

  123. From what you are saying, we can obviously assume that we are going to have regional government in some parts of England and not in others.
  124. (Mr Raynsford) Yes.

  125. That is almost an inevitable consequence. So effectively we are going to have the West Lothian question with knobs on.
  126. (Mr Raynsford) No, there will be regional government in all regions but whether it is regional government through an elected regional assembly will depend on the decision of the regions through a referendum, so there will need to be - and this is one of the other crucial issues for our White Paper - arrangements to ensure that Government's relations with those regions that do not opt for regional assemblies do not disadvantage those regions in terms of access to the resources and the support which regions can rightly expect from the Government, but there will be a different relationship where there is an elected regional assembly.

  127. So there will be questions in future when ministers come to the House to answer questions or make statements or whatever they do where they are speaking for some of the English regions but, in other cases, those regions will be dealing with matters themselves and ministers will not actually have responsibility.
  128. (Mr Raynsford) That is one of the slightly messy consequences of a programme of devolution and of course that applies equally in relation to Wales and Scotland.

  129. It is going to be messy because you will have a minister in one department, an English department, with differing responsibilities for different parts of the country.
  130. (Mr Raynsford) I know that the bureaucrat would produce an ideally structured pattern which was consistent in every region. Sadly, that does not actually relate to the wishes and aspirations of the people of our islands who have made it very clear that they wish to enjoy a measure of devolution in Scotland and Wales and we are extending that opportunity to English regions.

  131. Do you know of any other country in the European union which has a similar fragmented form of devolution?
  132. (Mr Raynsford) The Spanish example is one where there are very wide variations in the degree of devolved autonomy given to the different autonomous regions with Catalonia and the Basque region enjoying far more extensive devolved powers than ... I think it is true to say that the devolution experience in Spain has been very successful in relation to Catalonia and has helped to resolve the very longstanding -

    Mrs Dunwoody

  133. When were you last in Catalonia, Minister?
  134. (Mr Raynsford) About six months ago and I have been a frequent visitor, I am very familiar with the region.

  135. Lots of us are and I can assure you that there are some problems in Catalonia that we would not want to see reproduced within the regional structure of this country.
  136. (Mr Raynsford) I think it is fair to say that there were substantially more serious problems during the Franco era when the aspiration of the Catalan people for a degree of autonomy was suppressed.

  137. Most people would regard a fascist government as being different from a democratic government.
  138. (Mr Raynsford) I think it is one of the great triumphs of the democratic government in Spain that it has given a measure of devolved autonomy to regions.

    Mr Betts

  139. Can we move on to another issue with regard to the powers of regional assemblies because one of the concerns always is that when the powers have been recommended by central government, central government find lots of reasons why it should hang onto its powers and lots of reasons to pull in powers that they need from local government.
  140. (Mr Raynsford) These are some of the very difficult and big issues that we are considering in preparing the White Paper. The basic framework and principle is that regional assemblies should involve the devolution of powers from central government and from bodies that currently exercise responsibilities in the regions and may be answerable to ministers but are not otherwise accountable, so creating a framework for accountability within the regions with the devolution of powers from on top, not drawing up powers from local government. However, inevitably there is going to be an interface between local government and the regional assemblies and getting that right so that it does not inhibit local government powers and local government initiative but ensures a coherent relationship between local government and the regions is one of the very important issues that we are considering.

  141. So they are primarily going to take over the as currently administered regional -?
  142. (Mr Raynsford) That, in our view, will be one of the core elements for regional assembly.

  143. So regional offices of government will go where there is regional assembly?
  144. (Mr Raynsford) The experience in London is that there is a continued need for a government office but much scaled down compared with previously because certain functions still require a government response and that is one of the issues that obviously has to be covered by the White Paper.

  145. Where regions choose not to go for an elected assembly, do we have assurances that decisions like planning decisions are only going to be made by elected bodies?
  146. (Mr Raynsford) That again is one of the issues to be covered in the White Paper and Lord Falconer obviously will be saying more on the issue of planning when he publishes his planning Green Paper in the reasonably near future.

    Mrs Ellman

  147. Does your department make any assessment of regional disparities in public spending and see whether they are justified?
  148. (Mr Raynsford) We obviously take broad account of the patterns of expenditure, particularly those which relate to our own department's activities in each of the regions. We will be announcing later on today the local government settlement for next year which obviously will be a very significant component in that because that will govern the total spending of local authorities in each region of the country but, as I said earlier in response to your earlier question, there is a collective government interest in this and I expect my colleagues in other government departments who have a direct interest in the relevant issue to be as much involved in this as I am.

  149. Does anyone look at the overall impact of regional disparities in spending?
  150. (Mr Raynsford) The overall patterns of spending are indeed kept under review and that is one of the concerns which both the Deputy Prime Minister and my Secretary of State have very much in their minds.

  151. Who keeps them under review?
  152. (Mr Raynsford) As I mentioned, this is a collective government responsibility because there are different lead government departments in relation to different activities. It is our role to set an overall framework for regional governance, it is the Deputy Prime Minister's role to oversee that work and also the ongoing work of the government offices in the region for which he is responsible. That is the current framework and that is how we try to monitor current arrangements and bring forward proposals that will create a better framework in the future for regional governance.

  153. Who makes an assessment of overall patterns of spending in relation to regions?
  154. (Mr Raynsford) Ultimately, the Chancellor is the final arbiter.

  155. So it is the Chancellor now and not the Deputy Prime Minister?
  156. (Mr Raynsford) No, I have mentioned that this is a matter for collective government responsibility and, if it is a question of overall decisions on financial matters, it will be quite rightly the Chancellor's preserve.

    Sir Paul Beresford

  157. Does the same group assess regional quality of output of services? What I am really getting at is that I presume you would agree with me that it is a mistake to judge the quality of service by the amount of taxpayers' money spent on it.
  158. (Mr Raynsford) We judge the quality of service by performance indicators and it has been one of our main concerns to ensure that there is a proper framework for performance management and we will be saying more about that and how we can improve the measurement of performance and indeed improve the standards of performance in local government in our local government White Paper. While that is a separate matter from input of government finance, there is no question that resources are crucial to the delivery of services. Without adequate resources, it is not possible to deliver certain services.

    Mrs Ellman

  159. Is it fair that the north-west has 25 per cent less in education spent on it then Scotland?
  160. (Mr Raynsford) The variations between regions are obviously significant and they can reflect a number of different factors.

  161. Is that fair?
  162. (Mr Raynsford) I leave that to others to judge.

  163. Do you consider it is part of your responsibility -?
  164. (Mr Raynsford) Scotland is not part of my responsibility.

  165. Do you consider regional disparities in spending to be a matter of concern for you?
  166. (Mr Raynsford) Disparities in the English regions are a matter of concern to me and I look at them both in relation to the local government settlement that I have been working on a great deal in recent weeks and also in relation to our approach towards regional governance that I have been outlining, but I have no responsibility for Scotland and Wales.

  167. Do you have any proposals to scrap the Barnett formula?
  168. (Mr Raynsford) As I say, I have no responsibility for those wider issues which clearly engage both Scotland and Wales.

  169. If you have a responsibility for the regions, do you not feel you should have a view?
  170. (Mr Raynsford) I am primarily concerned with creating an appropriate framework to allow the English regions to operate within a framework that they have the opportunity to determine through a referendum and that allows the scope for each region to develop as effectively as it can to enhance its economy and therefore reduce disparities that currently exist. That I see as a very important responsibility but that does not extend beyond England in the case of my job.

  171. You are saying that your concern is with the framework, not the content and not the application of resources?
  172. (Mr Raynsford) I did not say that because I pointed out that I had spent quite a lot of time on the local government settlement which is one of the main ways in which government money is allocated to the regions, but I also pointed out that other colleagues in government are responsible for different spending decisions relating to the regions.

  173. Are you proposing that the elected regional assemblies have tax raising powers?
  174. (Mr Raynsford) That is a matter for the White Paper.

    Dr Pugh

  175. Just on the issue of the local government settlement, would you accept that, in certain regions, this is looked upon as a bit of fiddle over the year and that there is no consistency from year to year and last year the new concept of floor and ceilings came in, which had been completely unheard of before and does seem to be an attempt on your part to adjust the inequalities, and would not the better procedure be to relook at all the formulae including the Barnett formula?
  176. (Mr Raynsford) The answer to that question is that we will be conducting an extensive review of the formula next year with a view to it being introduced in 2003/04. That is our commitment. That will not cover the Barnett formula but it will cover the allocation of resources of local government. In the meantime, we felt that it was right, insofar as it was possible, to provide local government with as great a certainty as possible about a future spending pattern. So, over the last three years, we have not changed the methodology for assessing the allocation of resources. We have obviously taken into account changes in data reflecting population increases or reductions, changes in costs, the area cost adjustment applies there, and factors such as changes in deprivation. We have not otherwise made changes to the formula. The floors and ceilings that you referred to was introduced in response to concerns expressed by local government that, in a supposedly stable position where there was no change in methodology, there were still very wide variations between outcomes because a change in population or a change in costs could have a significant effect, positive or negative, on individual authorities' budgets and, to give a greater degree of certainty, we felt it was right - and this has been warmly welcomed by local government - to have a floor below which no authority falls and to pay for that - clearly that does have a cost - and there would have to be a ceiling above which no authority could receive a payment. That has been regarded as a fair framework.

  177. It is not a predictable framework though.
  178. (Mr Raynsford) The whole process is not predictable because I have to say that the elements that go in, the changes in school population, the changes in population, the changes in costs, can have quite significant and sometimes unpredictable effects.


  179. Can I just take you back to the Barnett formula. Do you want to make a comment on the Barnett formula yourself? Is it being reviewed as part of the Government's spending review for this summer?
  180. (Mr Raynsford) Not that I know of.

    Dr Pugh

  181. Specifically on the Barnett formula moving on now to look at the whole business of regional development agencies, if certain areas are losing out, they do look for support from the regional development agencies and they do look for some kind of regeneration in addition to simply having a regional development agency producing, as they do very well, a great number of plans. Do you think the emphasis on regional development agencies on job creation is too narrow a focus?
  182. (Mr Raynsford) I think it is right that the regional development agencies should have a focus on economic development and job creation, but clearly they have a wider remit as well and it is important that their work should tie in with the regeneration programs that are operating in the region to ensure that deprived areas do get the benefits not just of jobs but of improvement in physical fabric of the area, reductions in crime and other measures that will create a happier, more successful community, so that wider regeneration focus must not be ignored though, as I have stressed, I believe it is right that regional development agencies should be primarily focussing on economic development.

  183. Would you put any limits on how far that focus on a wider role would go in regional development agencies? Obviously other organisations would be jealous of their role and would not wish to see regional development agencies encroached too far.
  184. (Mr Raynsford) This is one of the classic areas where there is a tension between the role of central government as exercised through various bodies that are answerable to central government including regional development agencies and local government and it is one of the issues that we will be considering in our regional government White Paper to ensure that there is a coherent relationship between the activities of local government which will continue to be fundamental to regeneration but that those must mesh with the activities at the regional level.

  185. The Committee hope to see the DTI as part of its inquiry into empty homes to discuss the interface between regional economic development strategies and housing strategies. We were told that Sally Keeble from your department, who by a strange coincidence is attending a meeting in my constituency today, possibly on this subject I do not know, would be the right minister to deal with this subject. Can you explain this?
  186. (Mr Raynsford) Sally Keeble is the Commons Minister with responsibility for housing and that is the reason that she was proposed.

  187. What is the connection between the DTI and the RDAs?
  188. (Mr Raynsford) The DTI is overall responsible for the RDAs which transferred, following the last General Election, from our department to the DTI.

  189. Are you happy with that?
  190. (Mr Raynsford) That was a government decision.


  191. It was put to us during that inquiry, perhaps over-simplistically, that the best way to get more empty homes in Liverpool was to create jobs for people in Liverpool because, as soon as they got jobs, they were keen to move out of the area. Have you tried to integrate this issue? Is it not logical that the DTI and your department work much closer together to make sure that creating jobs does not drag people away from an area like Liverpool?
  192. (Mr Raynsford) There is an obvious need to try and ensure that policies dovetail and do work together, and that has been very much the theme of what I have said in response to a number of questions earlier on, but I have to say that it is not always possible to predict people's choice of location for their home and it would be difficult to tie people down to forcible occupation of housing in certain areas. We have to work with the fact that people do expect, and rightly so, to exercise choice and, if they feel that a neighbourhood is unsatisfactory and unsafe, they will probably want to move elsewhere. Therefore, the key is to ensure that the economic programmes to do with job creation are matched with regeneration programmes. As I have said, that will help to tackle those deprived neighbourhoods and make them attractive places once again for people to live in if there is still a need for housing in that area. There will be some areas where it may well be concluded that a fall in the total resident population is inevitable and that should be reflected in terms of housing policy.

  193. It would be possible for regional development agencies to make grants and to do other things on the basis that they employ local people, would it not?
  194. (Mr Raynsford) Certainly that kind of initiative to encourage local labour schemes, to give jobs and training to local people who are unemployed to help them into employment as well as possibly creating housing or other facilities for them are very attractive schemes and I have supported many schemes of that nature in the past and hope they will continue.

  195. Have you been able to persuade your colleagues at the DTI that that should happen?
  196. (Mr Raynsford) We have a continuing discussion with colleagues at DTI about that.

  197. That was not quite the question I asked. I asked, have you been able to persuade them?
  198. (Mr Raynsford) The answer is that, yes, in a number of important economic development projects, there is a strong local labour component. I hesitate to raise a controversial one but, in my own constituency, the regeneration of the Greenwich Peninsular, has been a major economic development initiative but it has also been associated with a very, very successful local labour scheme.

    Ms King

  199. Will there be a chance to alter the structure of the GLA in any forthcoming regional legislation?
  200. (Mr Raynsford) It is not our intention to revisit so quickly the structure of the GLA after its creation. I qualify that by saying that that would not necessarily preclude minor amendments to cope with anomalies or manifest weaknesses that need to be changed, but it is certainly not our intention to contemplate fundamental changes in the powers or the structure of a body which has only come into existence within the last two years.

  201. Do you see any conflict between your two roles, one as Minister for London and one as Minister for Local Government?
  202. (Mr Raynsford) I can see potential conflict but I do not in practice because I try to handle those two in a way that avoids those conflicts. Inevitably in government, ministers do have different responsibilities and they sometimes can involve priorities pushing one way or another. I think it is very important that one should be clear about how one discharges one's responsibilities to avoid a conflict of interest.

  203. If it is your job to get the very best for London - obviously I would hope that you would excel at that job - would that not be in conflict with your other role in terms of having responsibility for local government finance?
  204. (Mr Raynsford) I see my role as ensuring that there is a fair and the best possible settlement for local government as a whole and clearly I would expect London to share in that but not to have any special favours as a result of me being London Minister as well as Local Government Minister. I am the only London member in our department and therefore it is almost inevitable that I would be the minister charged with London responsibility.

  205. The Mayor has been accused of encroaching on the territory of some of London's local authorities. Do you think that he should be given a formal co-ordinating role in respect of some of their functions?
  206. (Mr Raynsford) The Mayor has substantial roles as defined in the Greater London Authority legislation which you have a very considerable familiarity with having served on the committee that brought it into existence. We believe that those powers are broadly right. I hope that the Mayor will want to continue to work constructively with the London boroughs because that kind of partnership between the strategic authority and the boroughs is necessary for good governance in London and for the promotion of the economy and regeneration in those parts of London that are deprived. In just the same way in our regional government's proposals, we will want to see a close and effective working relationship between the regional assembly where regions vote for that and local government.

  207. I want to turn to the local government White Paper and the regional White Paper. Do you think there has been sufficient co-ordination between the civil servants preparing those White Papers?
  208. (Mr Raynsford) Yes.

  209. Would you be able to take any measures or do you think there should be any measures taken to ensure that those departmental civil servants work more closely together?
  210. (Mr Raynsford) No. As both groups report to me and as I have been responsible for the detailed work on the preparation of the local government White Paper and doing the detailed work on the preparation of the regional government White Paper, I am in a strong position to ensure that they do work closely together.

  211. Given the extent of the change that is being proposed at a regional level, do you think this is the best time to be looking at devolving services from district and unitary authorities to town county councils?
  212. (Mr Raynsford) The issue of devolution I think is a very important one and you cannot draw a borderline and say, "It can apply only at this level and not at another level." If there is an aspiration and a wish by people at a very local level to have a degree of devolved responsibility, we believe that that is a reasonable aspiration and that they should have the opportunity of pursuing it, which is why we issued jointly with colleagues in DEFRA the consultation on QUALITY parishes, QUALITY councils, local councils.

  213. In relation to that QUALITY, should every town and county council not be required to have their 100 per cent elected members, at least six meetings annually as well as a competent clerk?
  214. (Mr Raynsford) We do propose in the framework that there should be not just a competent clerk but that there must be elected membership at the outset of each term. You cannot guarantee that, in the course of a term of office, there will not be a resignation and a gap at some period of time. That happens in the best run organisations. The principle of there being a fully elected local council at the start of each term of office is a very important one, yes.


  215. What is a competent clerk?
  216. (Mr Raynsford) That is one of the issues we are consulting on. The paper is a consultation paper and we believe it is right that the clerk should have the necessary skills to ensure good management of the council's business, to ensure that the statutory obligations are met, that the relationship with the other authorities in the area is properly maintained, and that the council does not exceed its powers and deals with its finances in a proper way. All of those are the kind of qualities that we would expect a competent clerk to demonstrate.

    Ms King

  217. My last question is on the issue of Best Value. Best Value is based on some very simple ideas: customer service and value for money. Why is it that so many councils are finding it so hard?
  218. (Mr Raynsford) Best Value is a very important and innovatory framework which inevitably in the course of its introduction has produced some teething troubles. Some areas have found it a little burdensome, a little costly, but my experience talking to local government as a whole and talking to the Audit Commission is that this is bedding down, that people welcome the way it has helped to focus on improving the quality of service and by refining the framework, by ensuring that there is a reduced burden in terms of the number of inspections, there is more focus on cross-cutting reviews and that the procedures are streamlined in order that we can get the real benefit of Best Value which is about raising standards and ensuring that services are delivered in a way which does respond to customer concerns. All of that can be achieved and the Best Value regime will serve its purpose and will prove slightly less cumbersome than it has in its initial year or two. The Audit Commission share those views.

  219. In the process of the bedding down that you are talking about, do you think there might be a degree of alignment in the amount of time councils are spending on the various four 'C's involved in Best Value, in particular the comparison part of it, and do you think the councils have been spending perhaps a little more time collecting data rather than improving services?
  220. (Mr Raynsford) We think there is evidence - and the Audit Commission certainly believes this - that there has been an improvement as a result of the introduction of Best Value but there is still a long way to go and we see this as a continuous process. Best Value is about continuing improvement in service delivery.

    Dr Pugh

  221. When Best Value was introduced, it was said that all local authorities should be able to save in the region of two per cent by employing the Best Value programme. Presumably you have been monitoring that. Is there any evidence that that has been done?
  222. (Mr Raynsford) We are more than monitoring it, that is a requirement that is taken into account in the way we approach the whole financial programme.

  223. Have you quantitative data which indicates that that has all happened?
  224. (Mr Raynsford) Local authorities are expected to achieve that and we take that into account when we set our grant framework -

  225. Have you any evidence that this has actually happened?
  226. (Mr Raynsford) There is evidence that it has happened because authorities' budgets are dependent on achieving that. They have to demonstrate that level of performance.


  227. So they have all achieved that?
  228. (Mr Raynsford) No but, if they do not achieve that, there will be some painful consequences in terms of allocation of resources.

    Dr Pugh

  229. If the Best Value process does not work - it is your process, not theirs - regardless they have their budgets cut by two per cent; is that what you are saying?
  230. (Mr Raynsford) We make an assumption each year that there will be a two per cent efficiency saving, yes.

  231. So if they waste their time through the process, they still have to cut their budget by two per cent?
  232. (Mr Raynsford) They will have to make choices as to where they make cuts if they cannot deliver two per cent efficiency savings. That is a perfectly reasonable objective that most organisations -

  233. Presumption is rather cumbersome. The Best Value process is a tool that actually produces a two per cent saving.
  234. (Mr Raynsford) We would expect an efficiency target to be something that any well run organisation would welcome. We regard this as a reasonable target for local government and, in our discussions with local government, there is a widespread acceptance that they ought to achieve this. Obviously in some parts of local government it is more difficult than others.


  235. I cannot work it out but, at a certain point, if you save two per cent each year, you are spending nothing.
  236. (Mr Raynsford) No, the authority does have that additional money to spend.

    Sir Paul Beresford

  237. The other way of looking at it is that some local authorities saving two per cent should be a pushover but for other local authorities it could be quite tight.
  238. (Mr Raynsford) It is our objective to raise the standards of all authorities.

  239. So you could cut everybody.
  240. (Mr Raynsford) No, this is not a question of cuts, it is a question of efficiency incentives.


  241. For how long is it going on? Two years, three years?
  242. (Mr Raynsford) We have no plans to change it because that is a framework that applies very widely in other sectors of the economy where organisations do expect to go on making continuous improvements in efficiency.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  243. That is exactly how the previous government wrecked the Health Service.
  244. (Mr Raynsford) If it were the case that we were putting less money into either the Health Service or local government, that might be a fair criticism, but in a framework where we are putting substantial additional funds in, it is right that those extra funds should be matched by efficiency gains as well to improve still further the performance of these bodies.

    Sir Paul Beresford

  245. Much of that extra money that went to the local authorities last year, which was well trumpeted, actually was spent, in some cases entirely, on Best Value arrangements and the new change in the structure of the local authorities and an implication from your answer two or three questions back is that the responsibility actually lands with the Government because despite the warnings in committee etc, the local authorities were landed with volume upon volume of rules, regulations and so forth often at a very, very late stage.
  246. (Mr Raynsford) I have to say that the vast majority of local authorities warmly welcomed the introduction of Best Value as a much better framework for performance management than compulsory competitive tendering that preceded it and we obviously have accepted the need to make continuing improvements. I do not believe that this ethos of continuing improvement applies just to local government, it applies to us and we are trying to improve the working of the Best Value regime along the lines that I outlined in response to an earlier question.

    Mr Betts

  247. The unions might say in a number of cases that they have not really moved on from CCT and in fact they see cost as the key issue.
  248. (Mr Raynsford) I think that is a very fair criticism and it is one of the issues we are reviewing in the review of Best Value which I am currently leading in our department to try and ensure that we get a workable system that puts its focus rightly on raising the quality of service.

  249. So when you actually have as one of your main instruments a two per cent cut in the cost of doing things, is that going to reinforce the approach you have been critical of?
  250. (Mr Raynsford) No. I think an efficiency target is a reasonable target in any framework and one wants constantly to be looking at ways of doing things more efficiently and it is right that organisations should be tested in that way but, if you are looking at options for delivering the service, the measure should be quality and not simply cost. You want to do it in a cost-effective way, but ultimately you want to ensure you are delivering high quality services and that is what we aim to achieve through Best Value.

    Dr Pugh

  251. I hate to be seen as a supporter of the CCT regime but the CCT regime - and I have had experience of both - had certain advantages over Best Value. One was the de minimis rule, so a very, very small part was not subjected to this enormously cumbersome bureaucratic Best Value assessment and the second major thing is that local authorities could concentrate within CCT on the departments that they themselves deemed to be performing less efficiently. Best Value does not allow them to do that. Best Value assumes that everything right across the board is examined in immense depth and in an amazingly bureaucratic way and therefore there are appreciable costs of conducting Best Value whereas the costs of introducing CCT were possibly less.
  252. (Mr Raynsford) I do not accept your description of Best Value. I have said that we want to achieve a streamlined system and we are working to do that, but the purpose of Best Value is to raise the standard of service and, if you are a local council taxpayer, you want to be confident that all the services the local council deliver to you are run efficiently and well and therefore it is right that there should be measures to consider the performance of the local authority in all its responsibilities. Clearly it is for the authority itself, with guidance from the Audit Commission, possibly with help from the IDA and other support bodies in local government, to consider how it can take the most effective action to deal with those services which are least efficient and also to ensure it is giving high priority to those services which its local customers say they value most. Those are legitimate and proper democratic decisions, but I do not think it is right to say that one should have a framework where it is perfectly possible for an authority not to deliver decent standards of service across the board.

    Dr Pugh: Nobody is saying that.

    Ms King

  253. May I ask when the Best Value review you have mentioned is going to be published and also if you can outline what the main issues are to emerge. You mentioned one of them and while I say that what you said about the two per cent efficiency cut is entirely proper and reasonable and I agree with what the Government is doing wholeheartedly, could you say if there are going to be any potential changes in legislation which might help reduce any unfairness in terms of conditions for staff when they are transferred.
  254. (Mr Raynsford) The Best Value review is looking specifically at the current framework in relation to a number of issues including the one that you have highlighted about the impact on staff who transfer to another provider. We have said that we will consider evidence on the emergence of a two-tier workforce and if there is evidence that is conclusive and that has an adverse impact, then we will consider appropriate remedial measures. It just so happens that this week the meeting of our review group is due to deal with that particular issue so I am not able to say more about it. In the previous meetings, we have had three very productive meetings; these have been held jointly involving representatives from the trade unions, from local government, from the Audit Commission, from the private sector and from the voluntary sector and, in the course of those discussions, we have covered a number of important issues about establishing a level playing field, ensuring that the focus is on quality rather than simply cost and ensuring that it does work effectively as a means of raising standards because that is our overriding objective. So, the meetings have been very positive indeed to date. We have some hard work still to do before I submit the report to the Secretary of State by the end of the year which is the timetable he has set me.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  255. Have you taken any evidence from the transport unions who have very precise evidence of what happens when you do the transfer of workers from one nationalised industry to private industry, which immediately not only wrecks their terms of employment but also, by the simple device of breaking that contract and re-employing them for a different unit, manages to change their levels of pay, their conditions of work and their pension entitlements?
  256. (Mr Raynsford) The review is solely concerned with Best Value in relation to local government.

  257. However, you did say you wanted evidence.
  258. (Mr Raynsford) But the Transport & General Workers' Union is represented on the review, and parties have brought their wider experience to the review. I have to say, we have seen quite interesting evidence of circumstances where it has been found possible to do particular jobs in a better manner, to deliver a more efficient outcome, some of which have involved an entirely public sector solution, some of which have involved a partnership with the private sector or voluntary sector. Our approach is very much that there should be a level playing field without a predisposition to one particular type or model of service delivery.

    Mr Betts

  259. Can I pick up on the level playing field? There is quite an important issue around which often gets raised. One area where there clearly is not a level playing field is in the ability of the public sector to raise capital. A lot of that is necessary to put in an appropriate bid for a service, whether it be in investment, in plant and equipment, or vehicles, or computer systems. The whole benefit system in Sheffield was privatised. One of the reasons was that the local authority had a choice between investment in its computer systems or using the limited capital it had to spend on other things. The Secretary of State at the Labour Party Conference gave an inkling that there might be a freeing up of local authorities' ability to raise capital to invest. Is that one of the issues that has been addressed as part of this Best Value process?
  260. (Mr Raynsford) It is, and it is one of the issues on which we expect to say more in our Local Government White Paper. We did consult on the possibility of replacing the current borrowing approvals regime with a prudential regime, in our consultation paper on local government finance published more than a year ago. We will be setting out how we intend to take that forward in our Local Government White Paper. The position, I should clarify it, would involve local government being freed from a requirement to seek borrowing approval, but instead there would be a prudential regime to avoid authorities undertaking a level of debt that they would not be able to service. So it would not provide a completely open door for widespread borrowing.

  261. But they were raising money actually to invest in things, to make improvements, actually to make savings in some cases.
  262. (Mr Raynsford) It certainly would allow that particular option, and that would, in our view, be widely welcomed by local government.

    Sir Paul Beresford

  263. On a related issue to that, you are reported, I understand, if I remember correctly, in some of the local government journals as going for removal of municipal trading restrictions on local authorities, is that correct?
  264. (Mr Raynsford) Yes. We also believe it is right that as part of both the creation of the level playing field but also part of the general framework of freeing local government from unreasonable restrictions, that there should be greater opportunities for local authorities to trade, and that that should also be governed by similar rules relating to efficiency in performance. So there will be greater freedoms for those authorities that have demonstrated particular abilities in that field.

  265. So if we continue the level playing field, presumably they will be divided into units, they will have corporation tax applied, they will have to pay business tax and so on and so forth, or would that be a little unfair?
  266. (Mr Raynsford) There will inevitably be different standards of performance that will apply in the public as against the private sector. The aim will be, within those patterns, to ensure that were a local authority is trading, it is doing so in an efficient way. That is measured against the performance of other service deliverers.

  267. That was not quite the question. The question was really to bring in the level playing field. Here we are with municipal trading, with the prospect of a local council supported by business rates, supported by simple taxation, competing with the people who are actually paying for it and not contributing to that themselves.
  268. (Mr Raynsford) I think you have to say that that exists already in the voluntary sector which provides a number of very important services, but where it is not subject to the same taxation regime as the private sector. These are differences that exist and they reflect the nature of different organisations. What we are seeking to do is to try to create a level playing field without the kind of biases that currently prevent sensible activity that is to the benefit of the community.

  269. Local government expenditure is something like 25, 26, 27 per cent of government expenditure. It rather puts charities into a shadow. I do not think the comparison is valid.
  270. (Mr Raynsford) The comparison is entirely valid, because there is a large number of voluntary organisations that do sterling work in many fields. You will be aware of the housing field where housing associations now represent a very, very large proportion indeed of the total housing stock and they are voluntary organisations.

    Chairman: Can I just remind the Committee that we have a fairly lengthy set of questions, and I hope we can reduce the number of supplementaries that we are getting. Christine Russell.

    Christine Russell

  271. Minister, can we move on to the cost on inspection. Do you actually know how much is being spent on inspections not only by the Audit Commission but by all the other inspection bodies too, and including local authorities who obviously spend a great deal preparing for those external inspections?
  272. (Mr Raynsford) I can supply you with the full cost, but I cannot off the top of my head give you the figures for the total cost of all the inspections including Ofsted and the Social Services Inspectorate for which I am not responsible. What I can say is that it is our objective to try to achieve a more coherent and more integrated framework, so that the various inspectorates are working to broadly comparable standards and to reduce the unnecessary burden and bureaucracy of inspection, which is very much part of what I was talking about earlier about how we could simplify and streamline the Best Value review, with less inspections, again relating to the performance of a local authority, so a light-touch regime applying to those authorities that have demonstrated a high level of performance. We expect to say more about that in our forthcoming White Paper.

  273. An academic study suggested 600 million per annum. Would that figure surprise you?
  274. (Mr Raynsford) That would not surprise me at all.


  275. Do you think it is reasonable to spend that much, then, on inspection?
  276. (Mr Raynsford) I think it is reasonable to ensure high standards of performance, and that the effect of inspection in a range of different areas - I just mentioned education as one - has undoubtedly played a crucial part in helping to improve performance standards. What we have to do is to get value for money and to ensure that the people of our country are getting high standards of service from local government.

    Christine Russell

  277. So you are satisfied that in general all the inspection is improving standards?
  278. (Mr Raynsford) Yes, I am. I would not pretend for a moment that every inspection is successful. Inevitably there are some that do not do as well as others, but I do believe the process as a whole is a very competent one and it is helping to raise standards.

  279. Can I focus in particular on the Audit Commission and whether that is providing good value for money. Is there any real evidence that following an Audit Commission inspection there is any real evidence of a failing local authority improving thereafter?
  280. (Mr Raynsford) There is a lot of evidence, and the Audit Commission is increasingly publishing evidence showing the way in which local authority services are responding. What we are keen to do is to sharpen that process, to ensure that there is more focus on outcomes and less on the process itself, to get away from a slight tendency towards a tick-box approach towards inspection and more of a focus on outcomes that really will benefit local people who will get improved services. That is very much our intention.

    Sir Paul Beresford

  281. How much has the staffing level of the Audit Commission gone up?
  282. (Mr Raynsford) I cannot give you precise figures off the top of my head, but I can certainly write to you with those.

  283. You would not be surprised if it were more than double?
  284. (Mr Raynsford) The Audit Commission has taken on a very substantial additional range of responsibilities to include Best Value and Best Value inspections as well as its traditional auditing role.

    Christine Russell

  285. This Committee in the past recommended that really more emphasis should be placed on peer review and that inspections themselves should be better co-ordinated. Are we ever going to see this happening?
  286. (Mr Raynsford) Yes, we believe there is an important role for peer review. I have discussed this regularly with local government and with the IDA which is doing very good work in this field already. Most people in local government I speak to feel that both are necessary, that there is a need for more external inspection which can so often be more rigorous than a peer review and that there is the need for the supportive approach which those who are currently working in other local authorities are often best placed to give to help organisations that are having difficulties in improving their service.

  287. Could I move on to those councils that the Audit Commission describe as "underperforming". I think that is 15 per cent of local authorities. Have you actually been provided with any analysis of what are the characteristics of those 15 per cent councils?
  288. (Mr Raynsford) I have been deluged with information which measures local government performance in a whole variety of different indicators. What the Audit Commission is seeking to do, quite rightly, is to draw together the key ones that give above all a sense of the corporate health of a department, because while you can get detailed figures about the performance of individual services, very often a failing service is the result of a corporate failure by the authority as a whole, and it is that area of the corporate health of the local authority which is going to be one of the key focuses for proposals in our Local Government White Paper, building on the existing Best Value regime and the existing inspection regime which inevitably measure the performance of specific services. So those three elements we want to bring together to ensure that we get a picture of the performance of local authorities. Can I add that the White Paper will spell out the categories of performance that we expect to use in the future, and this will define the difference between the levels of performance achieved by local authorities, but it would not be right to say that 15 per cent of authorities are treated as failing.

  289. Can I try to draw you out on whether there are any characteristics that are appearing here. I would particularly like you to comment on whether size matters or not, because some of the reports I have read certainly seem to indicate that some of the authorities that are really struggling to perform well are those very small district authorities.
  290. (Mr Raynsford) I think size does have an impact. One of the interesting conclusions that we have drawn is that among different councils there is probably the widest range of performance, with some doing very well indeed, others having difficulty. We certainly think that it is going to be important for local authorities to look at ways in which they can work with others, and that will include links between neighbouring districts or links between districts and counties, to ensure more efficient service delivery. If I can move into the area of introducing electronic government, which I think is hugely important, that is an area where it is quite clear that the small authorities simply cannot go it alone, they must work with others, and we are encouraging that.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  291. Where the councils will still remain, they should link with them?
  292. (Mr Raynsford) We think there is a great deal to be gained for the public in different tiers of local government working together, and indeed local government working with other public service bodies so that there are links with the health service, with the police and others who will have an impact on service delivery locally.

    Christine Russell

  293. What do you think central government can do actually to help those residents who live in areas where local government is not delivering?
  294. (Mr Raynsford) We have had perhaps the harshest test in relation to the London Borough of Hackney, of course, in the last few months, where evidence from both the Local Authorities' Chief Finance Officer and subsequently from the Audit Commission indicated that there was a serious failure, as a result of which we have served directions on Hackney Council. Those directions have aimed to ensure that the authority builds up the capacity to run its affairs competently and efficiently and achieve a balanced budget again. That is the basis of our intervention, and we think it is right that there should be that intervention in such cases, but our overall framework is one where we hope that the regime will encourage local authorities themselves to improve performance, without the need for the use of intervention perhaps.

  295. Maybe you have just answered the question I was then going to ask you, which was, is Hackney unique, or do you see the need for intervention happening in other authorities?
  296. (Mr Raynsford) I do not think it is unique, but we do not want to intervene except where it is quite clear that something additional is required because of a serious failure at a local level.


  297. So if it is not unique, you have got a sort of supplementary list of people that you might be intervening in, have you?
  298. (Mr Raynsford) I have no supplementary list, but I know that concerns have been expressed on a number of counts by the Audit Commission about services in certain areas. Indeed, my colleagues in Government have indicated concern about services, whether it is social services in particular authorities or other services that are not delivering as high a standard as they should. Our concern is to put in place, as I said, a performance management framework which will enable a rounded judgement to be formed on the performance of the local authority as a whole, as well as its performance on individual service areas, so that this will help the drive to improve performance standards, with the intervention powers available if necessary but very much the last resort.

    Christine Russell

  299. It has been widely trailed that the forthcoming White Paper on Local Government will in fact introduce great freedoms for local authorities. Is that true? If it is, what will they be and will they apply across the board to all authorities?
  300. (Mr Raynsford) The answer is yes, it is true, and while I cannot give you all the details now, I have already indicated in response to a question from Mr Betts the financial freedom in relation to capital which is one of the areas. We intend to carry through a programme of deregulation which will free local government of some of the burdens and restrictions. At the moment there are large numbers of consent regimes requiring the approval of the Secretary of State, certain actions which could perfectly well be taken by a local authority on its own initiative. There will be reductions in the number of requirements to produce plans. Currently there are very large numbers of plans that local authorities are required to produce. We believe there is scope for reducing that significantly.


  301. You mean the Government actually imposed burdensome restrictions on local authorities?
  302. (Mr Raynsford) I made it clear that we are in the process of trying to create a framework which will give greater freedom and opportunity for local government, together with a performance management and incentive regime which will help to drive up standards.

    Christine Russell

  303. The NHS has developed this model of "earned autonomy". If you get your three stars, then you are going to be free to develop your own services and not have the high level of monitoring from the centre. Will this kind of principle that has been developed in the NHS actually be repeated in local government?
  304. (Mr Raynsford) The approach that we will adopt will involve a removal of unnecessary regulation and a provision of greater freedom to all local government, but there will be a graduated approach which will give greater freedoms and greater benefits to those high-performing councils. In response to an earlier question I talked specifically, on inspection, of how a lighter-touch inspection would be a natural consequence of an authority achieving a high level of performance, because there would not be the requirement for detailed scrutiny by the Audit Commission of that council to the same extent that there would be of an authority which was having difficulty. So there will be a combination of general benefits, general freedoms, but also additional ones as a reward and an incentive for high performance.

  305. But will that then not risk creating a two-speed system where you will get some authorities that will be really struggling either because they do not have the resources or the capacity to improve, or would you say that they should have that and it is their own fault if they are not using those resources?
  306. (Mr Raynsford) We have been discussing one such authority a moment ago. It is right that there should be intervention in such cases, but our view is that it is right that there should be incentives for all authorities to raise the standards of performance, and it is a matter of judgement as to what is the best way to achieve that. When you see our White Paper you will form a judgement as to whether we have got that balance right.

  307. Is not one of the best ways probably to encourage improvement actually to trust councils a bit more?
  308. (Mr Raynsford) I agree entirely, and that is one of the reasons that we are seeking to remove unnecessary restrictions, but also there has to be an expectation of improved performance. We do not believe it is right simply to turn our backs and say, "Okay, it's over to you and we won't pay any further attention." We think it is right that they should be encouraged, through deregulation and the removal of unnecessary controls, to exercise more initiative and more freedom, but with the clear expectation that that will result in better service delivery and more effective community leadership.

  309. Can we move on perhaps to Local Public Service Agreements. How will they actually fit in with the proposals for freedom in the White Paper?
  310. (Mr Raynsford) They marry very well with the proposals for freedoms, because local PSAs are based on the framework which allows a local authority, in response to setting or agreeing to meet stretched targets for performance which would be higher than they otherwise would be likely to reach, to receive freedoms and flexibilities to help it to achieve that. So there is a direct link between expectation of higher performance and greater freedom, and there is also a financial reward.

  311. What is the period for which the Government is committed to the Local PSA model?
  312. (Mr Raynsford) We have completed the pilots which involve 20 authorities. We are now in the process of negotiating Local PSAs with over 100 authorities who have indicated their wish to participate in the national rollout . The first four have been agreed. I signed the first of those with the East Riding of Yorkshire last week. Leeds, Peterborough and Buckinghamshire are the other three which are due for signature in the next week or so, then there are a further 12 currently under negotiation at the present time, and that will be followed by groups of 12 authorities over a six- to eight-week period thereafter, to allow negotiations with each authority on a package which reflects both Government's concern and priority to raise the standards of key services such as education, and local government's priority - because local government brings its priority to that negotiation - and a framework which allows agreement on stretched targets and greater freedoms and flexibilities to help deliver it and the reward grant of 21/2 per cent of budget at the end.

    Mr Cummings

  313. Will this apply to district councils in the shire counties?
  314. (Mr Raynsford) This applies to only top-tier authorities, but we have encouraged co-operation between councils and districts.

  315. What encouragement are you offering to the districts?
  316. (Mr Raynsford) We are offering more money to those county authorities that involve the districts in their negotiation. I am pleased to say that Buckinghamshire involved all four of its districts, so that its Local PSA which we are about to agree involved some important contributions, particularly in relation to housing involving the districts. So there was a joint proposal from Buckinghamshire County Council and all four district councils in that county.

  317. Is there not an obligation on the councils to involve the districts?
  318. (Mr Raynsford) It is not an obligation, but it is working well, and we hope that other counties will want to follow that route.

    Mr Betts

  319. Coming to the White Paper which we are expecting, initially we assumed it was going to be a Government Finance White Paper, now it is going to have modernisation issues in it as well. What is the proportionate weighting of those two elements?
  320. (Mr Raynsford) It will be a very comprehensive White Paper which will chart the way forward for local government. It will set out the Government's overall objectives which can be defined simply as meeting higher standards of service delivery and providing effective community leadership. It will cover a very wide range of issues which I have been discussing with the Committee up to now, including the performance management framework, freedoms and flexibilities, the incentives and rewards that will be available, the arrangements for handling failing councils and a whole variety of other issues.

  321. There will be a timetable, will there, for the financial elements and their implementation?
  322. (Mr Raynsford) The financial elements will divide between those that require primary legislation, where clearly we will have to await the first legislative opportunity, and those that can be done by regulation, where we will indicate our timetable for introducing some of those freedoms. A number of them can be done without the need for primary legislation, and we do intend to take forward a number of those.

  323. Going on to key elements, then, of the financial changes, one of those is the Standard Spending Assessment with regard to which clearly the major review is going on. Do we now have a date when it is likely that the Department will be able to give an indication of the changes they are going to be recommending for 2003?
  324. (Mr Raynsford) The programme involves fairly detailed discussions initially between government departments and then involving the Local Government Association, which will result in proposals which will be discussed more widely before conclusions are reached in the summer of next year, the summer of 2002, for implementation from the financial year 2003/04.

  325. So is the Government going to be producing a discussion document?
  326. (Mr Raynsford) We are already involved in discussions at the moment.

  327. Will there be a document for discussion?
  328. (Mr Raynsford) I do not think there will be a single discussion document, because a lot of this work will involve a lot of technical discussion about the impact of particular indicators and the interface between different indicators, but there will be a full opportunity for local government to be involved in this process before decisions are taken.

  329. So are the proposals going to come next summer?
  330. (Mr Raynsford) The work is already ongoing. There will be continuing discussion and there will be a full involvement of local government before decisions are set out next summer.

  331. You say "decisions are set out". Will there be any opportunity for consultation to happen on those decisions or will they be final?
  332. (Mr Raynsford) As always, decisions are subject to review, because we publish our provisional assessment, as you know, and then accept representations on that assessment before we finalise it. In the case of next year when there will be the impact of this big review of SSAs, that will clearly be a crucial opportunity for authorities to see the impact of the new arrangement on their finances and to make representations. In the current year, because there are no changes in methodology, we do not see the need for an extensive programme of representations, but next year there undoubtedly will be.

  333. On the issue of the amount of money that is raised locally to fund local services, that is currently around 25 per cent, with 75 per cent coming from central government. The indications from the current Secretary of State are that there is a desire in Government to bring about a shift in that. Is that going to be one of the issues that is going to be dealt with in the White Paper? Are we going to see something quite significant there?
  334. (Mr Raynsford) We see this as a longer-term measure, because moving from the current framework to one where a significantly greater proportion of local revenue was raised locally would have very significant implications. We believe that should be considered further, and we will be setting out in the White Paper our proposals for doing that over the next year or so.


  335. Turning to council tax, in March 1/2 billion had not been collected. Has the situation improved now?
  336. (Mr Raynsford) The situation has improved a little bit. The percentages are up by about 0.2 of a percentage point both on councils' collection and the business rate collection, but there are still a number of authorities that are failing badly. We have mentioned Hackney earlier where their collection rate of some 6 to 7 per cent is clearly wholly unacceptable and tough action is required to turn that around, but there are other areas too where performance could improve.

  337. Housing benefit administration has been a bit of a shambles, has it not?
  338. (Mr Raynsford) It is a difficult issue and one on which I have spoken frequently to my colleagues in the Department of Work and Pensions who, of course, have responsibility for that scheme.

  339. And?
  340. (Mr Raynsford) They are working on this matter. It is very much our objective to provide a framework that simplifies housing benefit, to make it easier to administer and easier for the public to understand, but it is not easy to do that because there are direct tensions between achieving a fair system that reflects the variety of different circumstances and allows people to get benefit that does reflect their circumstances, as against a simple system which is easy to administer. There is a tension between those two. I would not say that the Government believe we have absolutely got it right, but we are moving towards creating a simpler, fairer system, and equally we are trying to encourage improved delivery of service. I have to say, looking at local authorities, there are some exemplars, there are some that do an extraordinarily good job, but others find it more difficult.

  341. I think you were in the Committee in the last Parliament when the Deputy Prime Minister described the housing benefit system as "a shambles". That was about three years ago. Do you think that really it has improved since then?
  342. (Mr Raynsford) I think there is improvement in certain areas, but it is not necessarily good enough and there is a good deal more work needs to be done.

  343. How many statutory plans do local authorities have to produce?
  344. (Mr Raynsford) A very substantial number. In the White Paper we will set this out. It varies, of course, depending on the tier of authority, but around 60 to 70 is the overall figure and we are aiming to reduce that significantly in our proposals in the White Paper.

  345. So it is 60 to 70?
  346. (Mr Raynsford) Yes.

  347. Do you think they can have any coherence at all?
  348. (Mr Raynsford) That is one of the reasons we are seeking to reduce the number, and we will set out our proposals in the White Paper. The purpose of the plans is self-evident - that this is to focus attention on an important service, to ensure that the authority does act in a way which makes it likely to meet the objectives of efficient service delivery, but a proliferation of plans can be implemented. That is why we are now engaged in a process of rationalisation and will announce our proposals in the White Paper.

  349. So we are coming down to about 30 plans, are we?
  350. (Mr Raynsford) I am not going to speculate now on numbers, but we are seeking a significant reduction.

    Mr Grayling

  351. Of all the plans that local authorities submit, how many does your Department actually read?
  352. (Mr Raynsford) I have to say, there is a collective approach in the Government whereby individual government departments responsible for particular services take responsibility for looking at the plans in those areas, so I would expect all the education plans to be read not by my officials but by officials in the Department for Education and Skills.

  353. How many of those submitted to your Department are actually read?
  354. (Mr Raynsford) There are a significant number in relation to our Department. I think I am right in saying that there are about 17 currently. We hope to reduce those very significantly indeed, and that will mean less reading for our officials.

    Mr Cummings

  355. Turning to safety standards, Minister, and the Health and Safety Executive, they are much higher in the railways than in some areas. How are you going to get the Health and Safety Executive to co-ordinate the standards of other bodies to ensure that decisions are taken to increase safety in this area and you do not have a worsening situation?
  356. (Mr Raynsford) We attach considerable importance to raising health and safety standards, and as a result of the Revitalising Health and Safety publication which came out a year or so ago we have set targets for reducing accidents and problems of ill-health, particularly in those industries where there are the greatest concentrations of problems. We have identified in particular construction and agriculture as areas with a particularly unfortunate record for accidents, and the Health and Safety Executive is focussing particular energy and attention on those areas. This is very much a response in relation to the level of risk in particular industries.

    In the absence of the Chairman, Mrs Dunwoody was called to the Chair

  357. What progress has been made in establishing a single transport safety regulator?
  358. (Mr Raynsford) I would have to say that the responsibility for transport matters lies with other Minister in my Department, and I cannot comment on that, but we certainly have taken very careful consideration of the recommendations currently reported, and I know that it is the intention of the Secretary of State to seek early legislation to give effect to Lord Cullen's recommendations.

    Dr Pugh

  359. Can we turn to the question of local authorities' structure. Will every local authority be in a position to implement the new structures by June 2002?
  360. (Mr Raynsford) We have made very good progress. We have received new constitutional proposals from the overwhelming majority of local authorities. The timetable is such that we should certainly meet our target that every local authority should have reviewed its constitution and put in place appropriate arrangements by the end of 2002.

  361. Of the three models on offer, what proportion do you think will be chosen of each?
  362. (Mr Raynsford) The very large majority will involve a leader and cabinet model. We will have a certain number of Merrill options. It is difficult to give precise figures at the moment, because there are some referenda that are pending and other authorities whose proposals have not yet been fully submitted or have not been fully considered.

  363. Why do you think the first model is so popular?
  364. (Mr Raynsford) I think the answer is that it is probably the closest to local authorities' existing structures; that the process of change is quite a painful one, and that people tend on the whole to favour models that contain familiar elements.

  365. You do not think it was an omission not to give the electors a chance to vote for the status quo? It has been put to me that many electors would prefer the system to stay as it was, and then you would have a comparison between the new system as well as the old one. What was wrong with that?
  366. (Mr Raynsford) The committee system is a system that has been around for a very considerable length of time. It was our view that there was a need for modernisation and reform. Far too much time under the old system was spent in the process of attending committee meetings; there was not often a clarity about decision-making, where the public were often left with little idea as to who was responsible, and where it was possible for the buck to be passed very easily between different councillors.

  367. Could that argument have been put in a referendum, with people being given the choice as to whether or not they wanted to keep what you clearly regard as an outmoded system? They did not get that choice. It has been put to me by many people that they would prefer, having experienced the new system, the old system, but that there are very few old systems around that the new system can really be compared with here.
  368. (Mr Raynsford) I have to say I do not regard the status quo, if it is not delivering a satisfactory outcome, as something that should be retained simply because it has been done for many years in the past. We believe it is right that local government should be changing its approach to ensure that it is delivering efficient services, that it is responsive to the public in this area and that is the whole purpose of the government's reforms. What we are doing is seeking an element of proper consultation between all local authorities and their electors before they finalise arrangements and giving electors the opportunity to have a say.

  369. Through a restricted menu?
  370. (Mr Raynsford) From a menu of options which will deliver efficient services and a proper framework of accountability.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  371. They should have total freedom to make up their own mind, as long as they make up their own mind on the things that you ask them to.
  372. (Mr Raynsford) We think it is right there should be a proper framework rather than a total freedom to select whatever systems of governance the authority thinks is appropriate. Having said that, let me just say, one of the main thrusts of our white paper is going to be about trying to give a greater degree of discretion to local government in all sorts of ways and I hope we can do that also in relation to government.

  373. What about scrutiny? How are the new cabinet structures going to improve scrutiny, particularly the single party rule?
  374. (Mr Raynsford) The experience of committees such as this one is very much a positive one, about the benefit of scrutiny.

  375. With respect, Minister, all parliamentary select committees are serviced by an independent group of parliamentary civil servants, that will not be available to scrutiny committees in local government. There is no provision at any point for scrutiny committees to get independent advice from officers who will, presumably, be double guessing their immediate superiors?
  376. (Mr Raynsford) There are obvious issues about lines of responsibility and avoiding conflicts of interest in local government. It is certainly our wish that scrutiny should apply in an effective way, with the opportunity for local authorities to make use of independent expertise in the same way as parliamentary select committees can in order to ensure that the executive is held properly to account.

  377. Have you suggested to them that they should set aside a number of their own officers to service scrutiny committees?
  378. (Mr Raynsford) We are keen, and we will say more about this in our White Paper, to encourage the scrutiny function in a way that really will ensure that there is an effective input from people outside who have a valuable contribution to make.

  379. With respect, Minister, I am not asking you about employing yet more consultants from outside, I am explaining to you that select committees in this House, as you well know, are supplied with their own clerks who are responsible to the House of Commons. Now, are you suggesting a similar suggestion?
  380. (Mr Raynsford) No, because local government does not operate in a similar structure where you have an entire separation between Parliament and government.

  381. In other words, they will not have access to independent advice unless it is paid for on an extra municipal basis.
  382. (Mr Raynsford) I have discussed the possibility of external advice. What I would say is I believe most local government officers are capable of acting in a responsible way and giving proper and considered advice to enable the scrutiny committee to fulfil its role properly and at the same time keep the executive under scrutiny.

    Miss McIntosh

  383. What will you say to those people who previously were councillors serving a role on a committee equivalent to a select committee who now have no place in the scrutiny committee? They do feel very excluded.
  384. (Mr Raynsford) There are three broad functions you could define as the responsibility of councillors, one which would be exclusive to those who are in the executive, which will be the responsibility for key decisions taken by the authority. A second will be the scrutiny role, which will be a very important one and the third is one that we all perform in our role, which is local representation. That will continue to be a hugely important role. I believe there will be more opportunity under the new framework for councillors to represent their local communities effectively, to be in touch with their electorate and to convey the concerns of their electorate to both the executive and those colleagues involved in scrutiny.

  385. Can you honestly say you have not received representation from those councillors who now feel they are unable to perform a more rewarding representative role?
  386. (Mr Raynsford) We have received lots of representations, some councillors are not happy with the new arrangement, others believe the new arrangement works very well. We want to allow the new arrangements time to bed in. These are quite important issues about how councillors are best advised in their scrutiny role, how they can do it effectively. There is a learning process. There is a lot of scope for learning from the best practice of other authorities to improve it and I would not for a moment say that we regard this as the end of process. We see this as an evolving process.

    Mr Cummings

  387. I would be wrong in my assumption, Minister, that you totally set your face against any form of severance payment for councillors or, indeed, access to some form of pension scheme?
  388. (Mr Raynsford) We have recently consulted on opportunities for pensions for certain councillors, we certainly have not set our face against that. We do not at the moment have any proposals for severance payments.

    Mrs Ellman

  389. Are you trying to replicate the role of the back bencher in Parliament at a local level?
  390. (Mr Raynsford) We are trying to reflect the fact there are these different responsibilities, the decision making responsibility, the scrutiny responsibility and the representation responsibility. We want to ensure that councils can operate effectively, can have a clear decision making process which is transparent, so the public know who is responsible, that they are held to account through a proper system of scrutiny and that the public can feel confident that their local representatives are free to give attention to their concerns. Too many councillors in the past complained about the fact that time that was spent attending committees made it very difficult for them to fulfil their representation role. We are hoping that the new arrangement will help to overcome that.

  391. Do you have in your mind the role of the back bencher in Parliament as a suitable model for a back bencher in local government?
  392. (Mr Raynsford) No. As I indicated in response to the chairman, the parliamentary model is inevitably different because the local authority is a corporate body as a whole and that is different to the framework in Parliament, where the government is a separate position in relation to Parliament and it does create a different framework of responsibilities. There are parallels because all of us, whether back benchers or front benchers, have local representation responsibilities with our constituents and that will certainly apply equally to councillors. Some also have executive responsibilities, and members of the government have that. There are parallels, but it is not an exact parallel, for the reasons I have already mentioned.

  393. Do you have any plans to reduce the number of local councillors?
  394. (Mr Raynsford) We have no plans as such to do so. I think it is right to say that authorities have in the course of looking at boundary changes and in the course of reviews have considered in some cases whether they could streamline and reduce the numbers, but we have no plans to impose that.

  395. Do you see local councillors as a nuisance?
  396. (Mr Raynsford) I certainly do not. I see local councillors as a very, very important part of our democratic structure and what we are trying to do is to help local councillors to do their job as effectively as they can to serve their communities and to get satisfaction out of doing that. We also want to try and attract more people to become councillors, because it is currently the case that in some areas the numbers of councillors are not terribly representative of, for example, ethnic minority groups or young people, and that probably is a mistake. We want to have a more representative local government.

  397. The messages that I and others receive from councillors, who are not cabinet members, in local authorities is that they feel increasingly disenfranchised, removed from decision making and that leads to great dissatisfaction. Would that concern you?
  398. (Mr Raynsford) I think we are in a transitional period and the process of change is unsettling, that is why it is always inevitable that some councillors will not feel happy about taking on new roles.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  399. Are you discounting their views?
  400. (Mr Raynsford) We believe it is right that there should be a clear decision making process, which was not the case in the past, many decisions were taken in ways that the public could not understand either how the decision was taken or who was responsible for it.

    Mr Cummings

  401. Can you give an example of it?
  402. (Mr Raynsford) Yes, I can, where decisions were taken in all-party group meetings, with no way in which the public had access to that and then rubber stamped in a committee, which ostensibly was the decision making place, but where everyone who went into the committee knew in advance what the outcome was going to be.


    Mrs Dunwoody

  403. What is the difference between that system, where you think that is reprehensible, and what happens now when an executive can take a planning decision in principle but then leave the planning committee to deal with the conditions? What is the difference?
  404. (Mr Raynsford) It is a very proper division between the in principle decision, which has rightly been taken by the executive, and the detailed definition of a matter which had properly been considered by a planning committee, which is one of the committees that will continue to exist, as you know.

  405. That is extraordinary. You are complaining that decisions that were taken were not plain and now you are saying you could have an executive which takes overall decision, binds the planning committee in principle and then tells everyone else to sort it out.
  406. (Mr Raynsford) In just the same way as our recent consultation on the future of the planning system we proposed a framework on major infrastructure projects which could well be a case for Parliament to give an in principle decision, leaving the detailed issues of local protection and response to local concerns to be handled at the public inquiry. That is an entirely apposite parallel.

    Mrs Ellman

  407. Why are the transparencies in decision taken within the cabinet?
  408. (Mr Raynsford) Because the cabinet are the people known to be people responsible for the decision.

  409. Where is the transparency about the decision taken by cabinet?
  410. (Mr Raynsford) The cabinet members are all known and identified as such

  411. Where is the transparency?
  412. (Mr Raynsford) Their decisions will be reported.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  413. As the old group decisions were reported.
  414. (Mr Raynsford) The cabinet makes clear the relatively small number of members of the council who are responsible for the decision, and they are known to be responsible.

  415. The difference between the old system and new system is not in transparency but in numbers. Before the group might have been a large group that took the decision in secret but now it is a small one, and that is better.
  416. (Mr Raynsford) I believe it is a much better way to take decisions which clarifies responsibility.

  417. How?
  418. (Mr Raynsford) Because it makes clear who is responsible and it limits that to a defined number of people.

    Mrs Dunwoody: We have been round that circle, it is clear.

    Mrs Ellman

  419. When are you going to reassess the effectiveness of this?
  420. (Mr Raynsford) As I said, this is a newly emerging framework. We will obviously look closely at how it develops, we do not take a totally fixed view about how constitutional arrangements might develop in the future. I have already indicated in our White Paper we expect to indicate some areas where there will be greater freedom for local government to define arrangements.

  421. Are you disappointed that so few areas want elected mayors?
  422. (Mr Raynsford) No, I think it is entirely a matter for the areas themselves to decide. It is right they should have that opportunity and the electors should decide this in those areas where there is an interest.

    Mr Betts

  423. It worries me, we used to get advice in local government that you could not take decisions in principle until you had been through the proper process and you could not whip people on the planning committee, there had to be an opportunity for everyone to give their views. Given that many cabinets operate a completely closed system are you not decreasing the democratic deficit and there is no opportunity to make representations?
  424. (Mr Raynsford) I was seeking to define the difference between an important in principle decision as to whether or not an authority should seek to establish a major new transport scheme and the detailed mitigation necessary to ensure that the impact of that does not have an adverse effect.

  425. Out of town shopping centres and all of those decisions could be taken without the public being there?
  426. (Mr Raynsford) I would regard it as appropriate.

  427. They could be under legislation.
  428. (Mr Raynsford) I think it is right that the executive should be focussing on strategic decisions and should ensure that it is able to shape the future development of its area in a way that meets it objectives.

  429. If you lived next door to a site with a major new shopping centre on it or an open cast it is going to affect you and you should have an opportunity to make objections?
  430. (Mr Raynsford) Of course. People will have opportunities. The important distinction is that the cabinet should be acting on behalf of the authorities as a whole and pursuing its strategic objective in conformity with its community plan, which will have been the subject of detailed discussion and consultation with the public. The public will have an opportunity to express a view on key decisions like that before they are taken and then the detailed mitigation can be considered.

  431. That would not be now considered necessary in the new arrangements for planning. If do you not have pre-zoning you cannot take part and make representations before the strategic decision is made, where is the input?
  432. (Mr Raynsford) I hesitate to go on too much on planning because I am not the minister now responsible for that, but I was trying to illustrate there is a distinction to be drawn between the executive role of the cabinet in pursuing the strategic objectives of the authority and doing so within a framework which is allowed proper consultation with the public as against the more detailed scrutiny of the implementation which can best be carried out by a planning committee.

    Mrs Ellman

  433. You are not saying consultation and an in principle decision has been taken?
  434. (Mr Raynsford) No, I am not. I am saying that best practice will always involve consultation before decisions are taken.

  435. That is not what you said before.
  436. (Mr Raynsford) I said that the executive should be taking decisions in conformity with a community plan which would have been developed in consultation with the community.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  437. You are very well aware that community plans can be very general, the point that is being made to you over and over again is that you are actually depriving a local population of the right to have an input into a major decision because the planning committee of the future will be told these are the decisions in principle and you may decide within these parameters?
  438. (Mr Raynsford) Not at all. What we are seeking to do is to create a more effective framework for decision making in which the responsibility of decisions is clear and those decisions are taken by people who have a clear responsibility to pursue the strategic objective defined for that authority.

  439. Can I ask you how councillors allowances pensions had been the subject of a Jo Moore e-mail?
  440. (Mr Raynsford) I do not know.

  441. You do not know.
  442. (Mr Raynsford) No.

  443. You have no idea at all why this should have been discussed as being a good day to get anything that we want to bury out?
  444. (Mr Raynsford) All I know is that on the day before, 10 September, I had seen papers relating to the consultation on councillors expenses and allowances and I cleared those for publication.

  445. You have no particular reason to want to hide that?
  446. (Mr Raynsford) I had no particular reason to want to hide it.

  447. What is the lowest turnout in a local election in the last three years?
  448. (Mr Raynsford) I think probably 10 per cent or 11 per cent in the Sunderland referendum on a mayor, if you treat that as a local election. If you define that as part of a local election that would probably be the lowest turnout. I cannot off the top of my head give you absolute chapter and verse.

  449. Why do you think that the turnout for the election for New Deals has been higher than local elections?
  450. (Mr Raynsford) I think there are some very interesting lessons to be learned from the New Deal for Community elections and indeed some of the mayoral referendum, which have also produced higher turnouts than local government elections. The conclusion, the first one, is that where the local population feels it is more likely to effect their lives and have an impact on them they are more likely to be involved

  451. If you give councils greater control over their own finances we might improve the turnout at local elections?
  452. (Mr Raynsford) I am not sure that is necessarily a corollary, it depends entirely on how the councillors act in pursuance of those freedoms and flexibilities. We are intending to give them those freedoms and flexibilities.

  453. What special consideration is being made for planning and emergency budgets for 2002 and 2003?
  454. (Mr Raynsford) We will be announcing the Fire Authority budget this afternoon in the statement. We have taken account, obviously, of representations relating to the requirements of the fire service and special arrangements have been put in place by my colleagues in the Home Office in relation to policing requirements as well.

  455. Who should the public turn to in the case of civil emergencies?
  456. (Mr Raynsford) The Home Secretary is responsible for chairing the Civil Contingency Committee which overseas this matter.

  457. Do you Chair the London Civil Contingency?
  458. (Mr Raynsford) I chair the sub committee which deals with London resilience and it reports to the main CCC, which the Home Secretary chairs.

  459. Do we have a similar committee for other cities in the regions?
  460. (Mr Raynsford) Not for other cities in the regions specifically, but there is a United Kingdom Resilience Committee which covers the country as a whole, which Christopher Leslie chairs.

    Christine Russell

  461. Can I move you on to elections now, various different mechanisms have been tested to try to improve voter turnout, like voting in the supermarkets and increasing the eligibility for postal votes. Can I ask you what you consider have been the most effective and whether there is any evidence that, in fact, more people have voted as a result of these new initiatives?
  462. (Mr Raynsford) The evidence is pretty conclusive that where there is more extensive use of postal voting this has had a positive impact. The indication of pilots are that while the public welcomed alternative options, such as location of polling stations and the ability to vote on days other than the polling date itself, the impact on overall turnout was probably marginal, whereas with postal votes, certainly where all postal ballots have been conducted, there has been a significant increase in the level of turnout.

  463. Staying with postal votes, can I ask you what is being done to ensure that postal voting is not going to be subjected to fraud? In particular I am obviously thinking about the case of the Radio 4 Today journalist who went to Torbay and managed, fairly easily, to acquire, I think, the vote of seven electors who, in fact, were recently deceased. Why was that journalist not prosecuted?
  464. (Mr Raynsford) That I have to say I do not know. Prosecution is not a matter of my responsibility. What I can say is there are obvious questions about potential for fraud in all types of elections and it is important that we maximise the safeguards against that. Many people find the requirement to return their postal vote in a sealed envelope inside another sealed envelope where there is a reference to their own name as an over-complex system and it does deter some people from postal voting. That is a necessary safeguard against the kind of abuse that you have described. There is always a tension between achieving a system which is easy for people to operate and achieving a secure one. That will be very much part of a pilot that we are hoping to run next May, in which we have invited bids from local government for schemes involving electronic voting and telephone voting, as well as postal voting and other schemes which have also been tried in the past.

  465. Could we not look at other simple measures to get round the postal vote fraud, a fairly simple method would be asking the local registrar of births and deaths to inform the local authority's electoral registrations officer of deaths in the locality?
  466. (Mr Raynsford) This would ultimately be a matter for the local electoral registration officer working on guidance issued by the Electoral Commission. Certainly I would expect the Electoral Commission to give a lot of attention to the safeguards that will be built into the various new types of voting which will be trialed this May, and subsequently, if we carry forward, trials on electronic voting and other innovative types of voting. It is essential to get the right balance between ease of voting and safeguards. The Electoral Commission has come into existence in order to oversee this. We have established a good relationship with them but they do have an independent existence and you would expect them to look at these issues and make recommendations.

  467. Do they have a big enough budget?
  468. (Mr Raynsford) I discussed this with Sam Younger, who indicated that he was happy to work within the budget he had got and he was able to meet his responsibilities. Obviously this is a developing situation where we will need to come back and look at this again. We have no reason to believe he has not got an adequate budget to fulfill the responsibilities of the Electoral Commission.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  469. Where is the line drawn between your department, the Electoral Commission and the local authorities for the responsibility of increasing voter turnout?
  470. (Mr Raynsford) There is an element of responsibility on all sides.

  471. Shall we start again? Where does the line lie between those three groups for the responsibility of increasing voter turnout?
  472. (Mr Raynsford) The local authority is responsible for the handling of local elections and parliamentary elections and other elections in their area and their electoral registration officer will seek to do their best to encourage participation and promote high turnout. The Electoral Commission has been established to review arrangements and to offer advice. It has produced, in my view, a very useful report on the General Election of this year which did suggest various innovations which might help to increase turnout. That is their role and I think they are performing that role very well and I am sure they will want to go on doing so. Our Department has now taken over responsibility for electoral responsibility for electoral law from the Home Office. We want to talk to the Electoral Commission about its proposals, some of those we will want to give effect to, we will therefore need to bring them to this House, we well discuss them with local government and we will discuss them with the political parties before coming forward with recommendations.

  473. Can we have some quick answers to some of these, when are you going to set out your strategy for e-democracy?
  474. (Mr Raynsford) We hope to publish the national strategy in the early part of next year. It has been a very successful programme to date, where there has been very extensive local government response, where they are implementing electronic government plans, we are very pleased with the progress.

  475. Are citizenship classes really going to make any difference? What is there place in the national curriculum for such a system of education?
  476. (Mr Raynsford) I have to say this is an issue on which there is on going discussion and I would not want to give a definitive answer at this stage. I think it is important.

  477. I do not think any of us would accuse you of giving definitive answers, Minister.
  478. (Mr Raynsford) I try not to on things that I cannot. I think it is important to try and encourage people ---

  479. Are you going to make voting compulsory?
  480. (Mr Raynsford) We have no plans to do that.

  481. How many referenda have been held in the last 12 months?
  482. (Mr Raynsford) On elected mayors, it is right to say about 15 have been held so far.

  483. Who approves the wording?
  484. (Mr Raynsford) The wording is set out in the framework which is provided by the government to local authorities.

  485. What does that mean?
  486. (Mr Raynsford) Legislation which governs this indicates the format for the referendum.

  487. Who approves the wording, Minister? I am a bit daft, I need it spelt out. Not within the framework, not all of the guidelines, who looks at the question on the paper and approves the wording?
  488. (Mr Raynsford) I will give you a written answer on that

  489. A written answer!
  490. (Mr Raynsford) At the moment I am not absolutely certain on that one.

  491. I see. Would the written answer include something like whether the Electoral Commission is going to decide the fairness of the question on whether or not we should enter the euro?
  492. (Mr Raynsford) Our objective is the Electoral Commission as an independent body should determine the wording of referenda questions.

  493. Of all referenda questions?
  494. (Mr Raynsford) Of referenda relating to national government and, therefore, the European issue.

  495. That would include whether or not we should enter the euro?
  496. (Mr Raynsford) Yes.

  497. Thank you. The new Funding Limits introduced at the last election, did they make a lot of different to the amount of money spent by political parties?
  498. (Mr Raynsford) At this stage I could not give you a firm answer on that.

  499. You do not want to reduce the amount of party spending on electoral campaigns?
  500. (Mr Raynsford) We want to ensure there is a framework in place that does ensure that parties can fulfill their obligations in a fair way and that funds are erased in a way which does not bring political parties or the government into disrepute.

  501. You would look at the situation where the rise in cost almost inevitably means that political parties are more and more dependent on large donors?
  502. (Mr Raynsford) This is a matter the Electoral Commission will be looking into and we will obviously look closely at their conclusions.

  503. Will you look at the provision to ensure that individuals makes absolutely clear that their names and address on electoral registers are not sold on?
  504. (Mr Raynsford) There has been a recent judgment in the Robertson case which obviously has a considerable impact on that process. We are considering the judgment and will be responding appropriately in the near future.

  505. We can expect some clear guidelines. We can expect some thought as to how the costs of elections are reduced and we can certainly expect that government will have given considerable thought to the implication of changes that were made?
  506. (Mr Raynsford) As far as the sale of election registers are concerned we were planning to issue regulations with effect from the compilation of the next register, however the Robinson judgment does impact on that and we want to consider the judgment fully before we announce our intentions.

  507. I see. At some point in the not too far distant future somebody will tell us what is going to happen?
  508. (Mr Raynsford) Yes.

  509. When are you going to reduce the number of Scottish constituencies?
  510. (Mr Raynsford) That is not part of my remit.

  511. Who will take that decision?
  512. (Mr Raynsford) That would not be a matter for me as an English minister.

  513. It will be the United Kingdom Parliament, presumably Britain is still part of the United Kingdom and you would have some view on that matter and would express some view on behalf of the English constituency?
  514. (Mr Raynsford) I obviously will on behalf of the English constituency as and when any proposals are put forward, but I would not see it as my role to initiate that.

  515. I see. The Sex Discrimination Election Candidate Bill started its passage through Parliament, are you introducing legislation to redress an ethnic balance?
  516. (Mr Raynsford) We do not plan to introduce legislation, not because we do not regard the issue as important, we regard it as very important, but because there is not the same relatively easy response as there is in the case of gender imbalance, where one can see very clearly if there is an imbalance. Measuring whether there is appropriate representation of sub-sections of the population in particular areas is more complex. What we are trying to do is encourage local authorities to ensure that they are, wherever possible, responding to the needs of different communities and giving opportunities to representatives of different communities to stand and be elected as councillors.

  517. I see. You are not concerned that the new Sex Discrimination Bill is going to change United Kingdom law, although you are still not at all clear as to whether we are enabled under EC legislation to put forward a policy of positive discrimination?
  518. (Mr Raynsford) We are very satisfied that the proposals contained in the legislation will allow political parties to introduce positive action measures in the United Kingdom that will help to redress the gender imbalance. It will be for the political parties themselves to satisfy themselves that the particular mechanism they adopt is appropriate. We obviously expect them to take legal advice, a point I made frequently during the parliamentary passage.

  519. You are going to take the decision in principle and let everyone else work out the detail.
  520. (Mr Raynsford) It is permissive legislation which does not require political parties to do anything, it gives them the opportunity to do so. We, obviously being prudent, suggest that they should consider carefully whether the remedy they are proposing is proportionate to the problem and, therefore, whether it is likely to withstand any potential legal challenge.

  521. Presumably your department gave very careful consideration to the European legislation on something so massively important?
  522. (Mr Raynsford) Yes, indeed

  523. What was your advice?
  524. (Mr Raynsford) Our conclusion was that the framework we put in place in that legislation was likely to be successful in allowing political parties to ensure the selection of more women candidates without the risk of legal challenge.

  525. "Likely", obviously it would be open to challenge. That is an interpretation.
  526. (Mr Raynsford) The world is a litigious place and I cannot guarantee the likelihood of their not being a challenge to a specific proposal coming from a political party.

    Mrs Dunwoody: Do you remember the time we used to produce legislation which we assumed was not going to be open to challenge? Never mind, that is a rhetorical question.


    Miss McIntosh

  527. There is a problem with the formula and the way that it is currently drafted as regards social services. If I can take North Yorkshire as an example, at the moment the expenditure on social services, particularly for the elderly, is estimated for those living in the county who are destined to reach retirement age of 65 having lived in the county all their lives, my understanding is that the formula does not have regard to those who move into counties like North Yorkshire at retirement age. Why is there particularly a shortfall in certain councils on social services spend on the elderly? Is that something that your department is looking at?
  528. (Mr Raynsford) There are a number of specific issues relating to the social services body which have been raised and these are all being considered very carefully as part of the review that will continue through until next year and will form the basis of our proposals for the new social services formula as part of the new framework for grant distribution.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  529. Can you not tell us how much money is spent on local government modernisation?
  530. (Mr Raynsford) I can write and let you have the full detailed figures.

  531. Would you also like to consult with your colleagues in the Health Department to see what the cost of modernisation is in the National Health Service?
  532. (Mr Raynsford) I will certainly do so.

  533. Is it true that the Welsh Assembly and Welsh Authorities are the going to abandon much of best value?
  534. (Mr Raynsford) I had a useful meeting with the Welsh Assembly members, and specifically the member responsible for local government, just over a week ago who described the way they were introducing a new arrangement in Wales which would, in their view, have the same effect as best value via a different route.

  535. Does that mean they are going to abandon best value or they are not going to?
  536. (Mr Raynsford) They are using their freedom as a devolved body to approach this problem in a slightly different way. The Assembly made clear their view that this was about achieving the same objectives that we have.

  537. I certainly hope so. Is it going to be such a different system, is that because they do not think best value works?
  538. (Mr Raynsford) The impression I received was that while there would be differences it would not be as fundamentally different as some commentators have suggested.

    Mrs Ellman

  539. But different?
  540. (Mr Raynsford) As is appropriate in a devolved framework.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  541. Minister, we now know that most of this will be in the White Paper and that you will tell us in various notes the answers to the questions that you do not know and that you are quite convinced that the new scrutiny system for local government will be effective and people will be able to have an input at every level?
  542. (Mr Raynsford) I am satisfied the new scrutiny system for local government will help to improve local government efficiency and effectiveness.

  543. What would we do without the conditional tense in the English language? Thank you for your attendance.

(Mr Raynsford) Thank you.