First Standing Committee on
Monday 16 July 2001
[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]
Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 83) (HC No. 88) on Maintenance of Roads Grants 2001-2002
The Chairman: It may be for the convenience and comfort of members of the Committee if I say that they can remove their jackets if they wish to do so.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Dr. Alan Whitehead): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 83) (HC No. 88) on Maintenance of Roads Grants 2001-2002.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 82) (HC No. 111) on 2001-2002 special grants in connection with pilot local public service agreements, Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 85) (HC No. 130) on invest-to-save budget round 3 projects, and Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 86) (HC No. 147) on 2001-02 special grant for rate relief in respect of hardship caused by foot and mouth disease.
Dr. Whitehead: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Gale. I hope that the two occasions on which I have done so in my short ministerial career are regarded not as a coincidence, but as a tradition.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): How short?
Dr. Whitehead: I was referring to my so-far short ministerial career.
I propose briefly to describe each special grant report in the following order: No. 82, No. 83, No. 85 and No. 86.
Special grant report No. 82 seeks Parliament's approval for grants that assist local authorities to deliver challenging targets for service improvements through local public service agreements. The Government are committed to the modernisation and improvement of public services in which local authorities will play a key role. We regard the role of local public service agreementsagreements between central Government and individual local authoritiesas part of that key role. They focus on improving performance in key areas and addressing national and local priorities. We have had a successful pilot exercise to test the process with 20 authorities. The 20 local PSAs concluded in the pilot exercise included demanding targets for improving key outcomes in services, such as education, social services and transport over and above what authorities were planning to achieve anyway.
For their part, central Government have committed themselves to changing various rules and regulations that authorities believe act as barriers to performance and to pay reward grants if, and when, the targets are met. The Government have also committed themselves, subject to parliamentary approval, to making two initial grants to the 20 authorities. Those are the administrative and pump-priming grants that are the subject of special grant report No. 82.
Under its local PSA, each pilot authority is entitled to a grant of £1 million to support projects of an invest-to-save or invest-to-improve nature. The projects will assist authorities to deliver their ambitious targets for service improvements. Different useful projects will be supported, from developing primary school sports facilities to improving city centre environments. Each authority is also entitled to a grant of £50,000 as a contribution towards additional administration costs incurred as a result of taking part in the pilot exercise.
The local PSA report follows the standard format for special grant reports. It sets out the purpose of the grants, the authorities concerned and the amounts payable at annex A, the main features of the grants at annex B and the conditions attached to the grants at annex C. The grants proposed in this special grant report will assist local authorities to deliver better, more modernised services for local people. I commend it to the Committee.
Special grant report No. 83 relates to the payment of grants to local authorities in relation to the extra costs that they will incur in 2001-02 under our programme for transferring to local highway authorities non-core trunk roads. In all, we are planning to de-trunk 500 km of non-core trunk road in 2001-02. Some transfers have already taken place, such as the A10 in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. Annex C of the special grant report gives details of the maximum amounts of grant that may be paid to each authority in respect of each route to be de-trunked in its area. The amount of grant paid will be calculated on a daily basis, pro rated to the number of days in the year when the route is transferred to the authority's control as a result of a de-trunking order coming into force.
Annex D to the report specifies the conditions that attach to the grants. The grant may be used only for the routine maintenance of roads. However, we do not require that it should be used exclusively on the de-trunked route specified in the report. That gives authorities some flexibility and ensures from the outset that de-trunked routes will be managed as part of the wider local road network.
The policy behind the need for the grants is our identification in our integrated transport White Paper ``A New Deal for Transport'', which was published in July 1998, of a core national trunk road network in England that should remain the direct responsibility of central Government. It includes all but some small sections of the motorway network, as well as strategic all-purpose routes such as the A1. Factors taken into account in identifying the core network were whether routes linked to main centres of population gave access to major ports, airports, rail terminals and peripheral regions, provided key cross-border routes to Scotland and Wales and were classified as part of the trans-European road network.
The remaining non-core trunk roads were regarded as serving mainly local and regional traffic, and the conclusion was reached that they would be more appropriately managed by local highway authorities, to enable decisions about them to be made locally and to be better integrated with local transport and land use planning issues. A proposal was therefore made to transfer non-core routes to local highway authorities.
In taking forward the proposal for de-trunking non-core routes, we consulted local authorities and the Local Government Association, in particular on the definition of the core network, which was confirmed in April 1999. We propose to de-trunk some 3,100 km30 per cent. of the existing 10,000 km motorway and trunk road network.
From the outset, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid) announced to the House the outcome of the roads review at the end of July 1998, we made it clear that de-trunking would be accompanied by a fair transfer of resources to local highway authorities taking over non-core routes. How to achieve that objective has been the subject of detailed discussions with the LGA.
Against the background of our current review of the local government finance system and the desire to leave unchanged the standard spending assessment formula, including the highways maintenance SSA formula, agreement was reached with the LGA that the most effective way to ensure that receiving authorities were provided with resources for the routine maintenance of de-trunked routes would be through special grants. Supplementary credit approvals will be issued to authorities in respect of capital expenditure on de-trunked routes. The arrangements for transferring resources are explained in annex B to the report, and the method for calculating the amount of grant is explained in the first paragraph of annex C.
The use of special grants for the routine maintenance of de-trunked routes is intended as an interim measure. Once we have put in place new arrangements for central Government support for local authorities, financing routine maintenance of de-trunked routes will be integrated with arrangements for supporting expenditure on other local authority roads.
Since the core trunk road network was confirmed, the Highways Agency has been involved in detailed negotiations with the local authorities that will take on responsibility for the de-trunked roads. Those negotiations included agreeing the amounts of grant specified in the report. As I said, 500 km is due to be de-trunked during 2001-02; a further 1,300 km will be de-trunked during 2002-03, 1,000 km during 2003-04 and the remainder later. The programme is phased to tie in with the renewal of the Highways Agency's existing maintenance contracts for the motorway and trunk road network, which will allow the new contracts to be structured to focus on delivery of services on the core network and to deliver those services in the most cost-effective manner.
I assure the Committee that de-trunking is not an exercise to shuffle off central Government responsibility for parts of the trunk road network and leave local authorities with the financial liability for them. The roads that we shall transfer have been properly maintained by the Highways Agency and are in good condition. For the long term, we have committed to spend £31 billion on local road maintenance under our 10-year plan, ``Transport 2010''. That will make up for past lack of investment and ensure that all local roads are brought up to a good standard of maintenance. To that end, a new code of practice on the maintenance of local roads was published last week. I commend the special grant report to the Committee.
Special grant report No. 85 will enable a grant of £22.4 million to be paid to local authorities that are successful in round 3 of the invest-to-save budget, a cross-Government scheme that is jointly administered by the Treasury and the Cabinet Office. The scheme provides financial support to projects that bring together two or more public service bodies in innovative ways to improve services to local people or to reduce costs.
This is the second year that local authorities have been eligible to bid for funding. In the previous year, 51 local authorities won funding for projects, and they received £23 million. This year, local authorities have again won a large part of the additional funding: the special grant will allow payment to 46 projects that were submitted through the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions for round 3, and they will receive £22.4 million. That is new money from central Government: it is additional to the other funding that is available to local government. Bidders for sums of more than £100,000 have been required to provide matching funding of 25 per cent. of the total amount to ensure their commitment to the project.
I shall outline the purpose of the invest-to-save budget, and the process that is used to select successful projects. I shall also describe a few of the successful local authority projects.
A key priority of the Government is to improve public services, and the invest-to-save budget, which is worth £380 million from 1999-2004, is playing an important role in achieving that aim. Each successful project must reduce the costs of providing public services, or improve their quality and effectiveness. The budget encourages a variety of organisations from the public, private and voluntary sectors to work together to find better ways of meeting the needs of citizens. Each of the 46 projects in round 3 that are led by local authorities will build new partnerships to improve services, and the lessons from each project will be shared so that other authorities can take advantage of the knowledge and experience that is gained from them.
Local authorities submitted many imaginative and potentially effective projects for consideration in round 3 of ISB, and it is encouraging that many of the projects bring together partners from the public, private and voluntary sectors. Local authorities are carefully considering how agencies can work together to meet the needs of users, rather than the convenience or traditional boundaries of the providers. The invest-to-save budget is also encouraging local authorities to explore ways in which to use new technology, such as IT and the web, to improve co-operative working between agencies and access for local people.
I want to describe a few of the local projects that will be funded by this round of ISB. In Birmingham city council, a project will join together foster carers, who provide a service to children in public care, with the agencies with which they must interact. In Dartford borough council, a project will develop online applications and the electronic management of entertainment licensing processes, and it will subsequently be developed to cover other licences issued by the authority. The project supports the development of e-government and helps to realise the council's community safety plans.
A Gateshead metropolitan borough council scheme will implement a new social care information system to support people who have been discharged from hospital and to improve access to information in emergency situations. It will provide information to the users of services and to carers, and address issues such as social exclusion. The Isle of Wight council has proposed a multi-agency project that simplifies access to services for autistic children, involving the appointment of a co-ordinator and an administrator. The co-ordinator will provide a one-point-of-entry scheme to health, education and social care systems, while the administrator will establish a website, linked to the council's website, that will contain information about services and a chat room for parents to swap ideas and to keep in touch. Lincolnshire county council has developed an innovative road safety project to cut fatal and serious road casualties, as the county has one of the highest road fatality rates in the United Kingdom. It will use the latest techniques and technology to advise, identify and train road users in the county.
Those projects illustrate the types of schemes that receive funding, and I hope that hon. Members agree that they are exciting projects that will bring tangible benefits to users of local government services.