Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 88)(HC 305) on Special Grant for Activities Undertaken by Beacon Councils

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Mr. Moss: As opposed to what?

Dr. Whitehead: As opposed to arithmetically untrue. We have entered the realm of making profound points in this Committee.

Eighteen councils that had not previously applied did so for round 3 of beacon council status. That is an arithmetical statement, but it undermines the hon. Gentlemen's point. It is untrue to say that councils are not applying. It is probably true that as the programme matures some councils will decide that beacon status is not for them, and that local authorities will become more concentrated in terms of the application process. The hon. Gentleman's point emphasises mine: that the programme is voluntary. Local authorities do not have to apply for beacon status, but the fact that many do--even in round 3, 18 new local authorities have applied--suggests that they regard the programme as valuable and want to make use of it.

Mr. Moss: Will the Minister confirm the following figures? During the first year of operation, there were 269 applications from 211 councils, and during the second year there were only 179 applications from 123 councils, which is a fall of one third. The Government were keen to encourage more applications, so they increased the number of service areas covered by the awards from seven to 11. The Government tried to widen the basis for applications, but they fell by one third.

Dr. Whitehead: I acknowledged that the hon. Gentleman was arithmetically correct, and he has demonstrated that. However, but not much can be deduced from the statistics that he has given. As he said, the criteria for beacon schemes are different for rounds 1 and 2.

Mr. Moss: An additional fall.

Dr. Whitehead: If the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, he is being over-arithmetical in concluding that because there are more categories, regardless of whether they are different, that must have elicited a greater number of applications. I am sure that he acknowledges that that the one does not necessarily follow the other.

Mr. Moss: Do I conclude from that that the Government increased the number of service areas that could be applied for because they wanted the number of applications to go down or to go up?

Dr. Whitehead: The Government did not take a position on whether they wanted the number of applications to rise or fall. We wanted to obtain from local authorities a number of proposals in the areas of the second round of applications. We wanted good proposals that would provide examples of excellence in the areas set out, which were different from those set for years 1 and 3, so that a selection from the programme could be disseminated. The fact that the examples of excellence that were requested were different in years 1 and 2 suggests that different authorities apply on different criteria and have different ideas about what they want to do. The idea that the scheme should be automatically pegged to the aim of achieving more or fewer applications is not germane to the process.

Mr. Moss: If the number of applications falls by one third again in year 3, will the Government deem that to be a success or a failure?

Dr. Whitehead: I am not making much headway in persuading the hon. Gentleman to consider more criteria than are suggested by simple arithmetic. At the end of the three periods under discussion today, the Government want to have a number of examples of excellence that can be disseminated.

If the hon. Gentleman were being scrupulous in making his argument, he would include the number of authorities to which the information is disseminated. If the information were disseminated to fewer authorities, that would be a failure; if it were disseminated to more authorities, that would be a success. If fewer authorities apply but the information is disseminated to a greater number, the hon. Gentleman would presumably count that a net success, but that is not possible under his approach. The system is not mechanical in the way that he suggests. It allows for examples of good practice to be disseminated by good local authorities to other local authorities, thereby allowing them to become better overall. I should have thought that hon. Members who have the interests of local government at heart would welcome that way of going about the business.

Finally, I emphasise that this is not a chartermark by a different name, as the hon. Gentleman suggested. The chartermark was literally a tick against a name, but the beacon scheme is about dissemination and the outward spread of good practice. As the first round demonstrated, such dissemination is a successful process. For that reason, I hope that the Committee will agree to special grant report No. 88.

As for special grant report No. 81, there have always been problems, worries and concerns about unauthorised camping and they will continue. For that reason, the Government contracted to review the matter on 2 November. As a result of that review—as I mentioned in my opening speech, it was conducted by Heriot-Watt university—we shall produce revised guidance on unauthorised camping. However, the grant report itself is, in many ways, important in dealing with the problem of unauthorised camping. If local authority sites are hygienic and well maintained, that itself is an argument against unauthorised camping. If sites fall into disrepair or are crumbling and it is not possible to camp on them, the likelihood of unauthorised camping increases.

Special grant report No. 81 provides a mechanism whereby local authorities may improve their sites. The applications that have been received and the programmes that have been proposed suggest that the availability of funding in years 2 and 3 of the programme will result in the substantial upgrading, improvement and repair of those sites. That will provide local authority places for gypsies and travellers who will therefore not camp on unauthorised sites. In view of the facilities that it will

allow local authorities to make available, I hope that the Committee will approve special grant report No. 81.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 88) (HC 305) on special grant for activities undertaken by beacon councils.



    That the Committee has considered the Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 81) (HC 276) on 2001-02 special grant for gypsy sites refurbishment.— [Dr. Whitehead.]

Committee rose at twenty-two minutes to Six o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Benton, Mr. Joe (Chairman)
Brazier, Mr.
Challen, Mr.
Field, Mr. Mark
Gilroy, Linda
Howarth, Mr. George
Keen, Alan
McWalter, Mr.
Miliband, Mr.
Moss, Mr.
Pound, Mr.
Sanders, Mr.
Whitehead, Dr.
Woolas, Mr.

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