Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 83) (HC No. 88) On Maintenance of Roads Grants 2001-2002

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Mr. Kilfoyle: I know how obsessed the hon. Gentleman is with the tools of information technology but if, like me, he were reliant on hard copy, he would see that the decisions were made by a committee composed of representatives of the Treasury, the Cabinet Office and the Audit Commission. The decision was made by Treasury Ministers, subject to the approval of the Cabinet Office Minister, against the criteria set down in the guidance.

Mr. Foster: I am grateful for that helpful information.

5.39 pm

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): I shall speak briefly on special grant report No. 86.

I welcome the support for local authorities affected by foot and mouth disease, which has enabled them to provide help to businesses suffering from the impact of the disease. However, it greatly concerns me that Macclesfield borough council, whose inhabitants I represent, is not one of those authorities. Indeed, it is the only one of six borough authorities in Cheshire that will not receive assistance in the report. It is difficult to understand the ministerial logic behind that, because, of the 15 cases of foot and mouth in Cheshire, four were in Macclesfield borough council and five were within a mile or two of its administrative boundary; in other words, nine of the 15 cases of foot and mouth in Cheshire have had a huge impact on rural businesses in the Macclesfield borough council area. To give just one example, Chelford cattle market, one of the largest cattle markets in the country, is in the Macclesfield borough council area. Several people have been sacked from their jobs at the market and a number of businesses based around it have had to lay off people. If special grant report No. 86 is not supposed to help such businesses, I do not see the point of it.

There are no foot and mouth cases within dozens of miles of Chester or Ellesmere Port, yet they are both included in the special grant report. Although Macclesfield borough council includes towns such as Wilmslow, Knutsford and Macclesfield, it is a predominantly rural area—certainly more rural than Ellesmere Port, as hon. Members who have visited that part of the country will know. It is therefore a bitter blow to rural businesses in my constituency that they are not included. I discussed the matter with my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)—who is also a good personal friend and a guiding star for those of us who represent Cheshire—and with the chief executive of Macclesfield borough council, who is also extremely concerned about the matter. I ask the Minister to reconsider and include Macclesfield borough council in the support given to local authorities affected by foot and mouth, even though that may mean changing other special grant reports. If he cannot say now that he will do so, may I come to see him with the chief executive of the borough council to discuss the matter in greater detail?

5.42 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): I shall be brief, to allow the Minister time to sum up.

I have a question on special grant report No. 83; if the Minister cannot answer it today, will he write to me? Can he confirm that road schemes that are not on the list in the report will not be de-trunked? Gloucestershire has an interesting situation in that part of the A40 was de-trunked to stop traffic going through Cheltenham. We were not compensated for the extra traffic that used the local authority road, the A4126 and we are now informed that the largest part of the A40 is to be de-trunked through Oxfordshire. That leaves approximately 10 miles of the A40, which is still a trunk road, in Gloucestershire. I understood that that road was to be de-trunked. If it is, why is it not part of the order?

Finally, in declaring my farming interests—although I shall not benefit personally from special grant report No. 86—I pay particular thanks to the Minister for including Cotswold district council in the second table, for which businesses in my area will be grateful. Gloucestershire was one of the areas worst affected by foot and mouth. I am also grateful that the Minister listened to representations on the previous special grant report debated in this Room on 2 April. I have no doubt that my constituents will be grateful for that and will wish to apply for the grant.

5.44 pm

Dr. Whitehead: We have had a wide-ranging debate; the expression has an additional meaning on this occasion. Not only has the debate been wide ranging but it has delved considerably into the minutiae of the orders. Of course, that is part of the Committee's scrutiny role, and I shall endeavour to provide full answers to the points that were raised. However, as I failed to run my pen across the paper as quickly as the questions came at me, I fear that I may miss one or two. If hon. Members wish to communicate with me further, I shall be happy to write to them. Presumably, at that time my pen will go across the page at the same rate as the questions come in.

Mr. Don Foster: For the ease of all Committee members, would it not be better if the Minister were simply to agree to check through the Official Report and write to those whose questions he fails to answer? That would save a lot of time.

Dr. Whitehead: That is a kind suggestion. Indeed, it may even give me an opportunity to sit down now. I could then later write to everyone on everything. However, I fear that that would not be the proper way to conduct our business. The hon. Member for Bath is absolutely right in suggesting that hon. Members will be concerned about particular points. What Members must judge today is whether, as a result of our discussions and the Committee's scrutiny of the orders, the answers that I give are generally sufficient to allow the orders to be agreed to, even though every question on every issue has not been answered. I shall endeavour to place Members' minds at rest and clarify some of the major issues. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Bath that it would be a good idea to write to Members about some of the more specific issues. If, even at that stage, Members consider that I have not answered sufficiently, I shall be happy to write again, and so on. We could be here for a very long time.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham made many detailed points and requests for clarification on the four orders. He asked who had bid in round 1 and where to find the details of the successful bids. I have already mentioned that the successful bidders in round 1 are listed on the Treasury website. As I emphasised in my opening remarks, the programme is maintained by the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, so it is reasonable that the bids should be there. Local authorities could not bid directly in round 1, so details of local authority bids in round 1 do not appear. What we are dealing with today are the proposals for round 2 bidding. We are looking at those details. I shall deal with the order on invest-to-save bids in greater detail later on.

Tim Loughton: Before the Minister leaves that point, we are discussing not round 2, but round 3. Can he confirm that the list that he provided in advance concerns those successful bidders in round 3 who are also the subject of the special order today? If that is the case, what happened to round 2, about which more information might have been provided?

Dr. Whitehead: As I mentioned, all the successful bids in rounds 1 and 2 are on the Treasury website. Round 1 was not eligible for local authority bidding; round 3 and future rounds will be eligible. The specific details of round 1, which the hon. Gentleman required, cannot be available on that website or elsewhere.

Tim Loughton: My specific question concerned unsuccessful bidders in round 3. If the Minister wishes to hark back to rounds 1 and 2 as well, he is welcome to do so. I was more interested in the unsuccessful bidders, how many there were and so on.

Dr. Whitehead: If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, as I have a huge sheath of notes relating to the various questions that he asked, I shall try to get to that in due course. If at the end of my reply he considers that I have not dealt with it, he may intervene again.

The general point that the hon. Gentleman made related to best value. Best value is not just about efficiency savings, but about a better way of organising local government service procurement and delivery. That is why the Government replaced CCT with best value, which has always been regarded as working on a narrow basis. The Government are looking at best value in the round, how services can best benefit communities and how the expenditure of sums of money can work to the best advantage of the local authority. Indeed, that theme runs through a number of the orders today.

I turn now to PSA bids. The hon. Member raised a specific query about the administration grant of £50,000. He asked whether that grant was adequate and why the same amount of grant was being applied for administration to the various pilot and roll-out projects. I should make it clear that the administration grant is a contribution to local authorities' costs and was never intended, and nor will it be, to cover all the costs involved. It is a contribution order to acknowledge that there are administration costs for PSAs.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport): I think the Minister would agree that it is good to have some contribution towards administrative costs. He would also probably agree that it is not always done when the Government introduce new funding schemes. He is probably aware that some of the beneficiaries of PSA are also beneficiaries of schemes like neighbourhood renewal, where significant sums of money are to be spent with no allowance, as I understand it, for administrative costs. Would the Minister therefore concede that the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions should take a permissive attitude towards authorities that use a portion of the money allotted to support the administrative cost of operating large programmes?

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