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23 Feb 2004 : Column 330W—continued

Information Technology

Mr. Allan: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what audit mechanisms are in place to determine whether information technology (a) hardware and (b) software products are being used properly in his Department. [150928]

Yvette Cooper: Corporate ICT services for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister HQ are provided by the Department for Transport under a Service Level Agreement which includes provision of licences, software and hardware as part of a managed service. I therefore refer the hon. Member to the answer given by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) on 28 January 2004, Official Report, column 359W.

Government Offices and the Regional Co-ordination Unit are responsible for their own IT systems. Procurement of core systems hardware and software is undertaken by the Regional Co-ordination Unit who purchase either directly from providers or via one of their outsource partners.

Licensing of corporate-wide software is managed by the outsource providers. Such software is subject to corporate licensing agreements and is subject to similar auditing controls by the providers as mentioned in the answer referred to above.

Individual Government Offices may also purchase non-corporate hardware and software locally. All purchases of software require prior approval from the RCU. Asset tracking software is utilised to monitor hardware and software utilisation.

Local Government

Mr. Dhanda: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what assessment his Department has made of the distribution of grants between local authorities in 2003–04. [153302]

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Mr. Raynsford: The new system for distributing formula grant to local authorities was introduced in 2003–04 following an extensive review involving both central and local government, and a full and open public consultation exercise.

The new system was designed to distribute grant to local authorities according to their relative circumstances—or relative need. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is satisfied that the new grant distribution system is both fair and sustainable.

Mr. Dhanda: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what representations he has received from local authorities in the current financial year in connection with the central Government grants they have received. [153303]

Mr. Raynsford: As part of the consultation on the provisional local government finance settlement 2004–05, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister received 454 written responses from 275 individual authorities, MPs and others. A further 34 arrived after the close of consultation. Ministers also met delegations from the Local Government Association, the Association of London Government and four groups of local authorities. Parliament has now approved the settlement which provides local authorities with a 5.5 per cent. increase in general grant.

Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister when he will issue (a) regulations and (b) guidance to local authorities with regard to retrospective membership of pension schemes by part-time employees; and if he will make a statement. [155004]

Phil Hope: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is carefully considering the case for making regulations to empower local authorities to deal with any Local Government Pension Scheme cases which have not been referred to an Employment Tribunal but which constitute a valid claim in all other respects.

The Local Government Pensions Committee of the Employers' Organisation for Local Government, in consultation with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, have issued guidance to local authorities consequent on directions from the Employment Tribunal. Further guidance in relation to the Local Government Pension Scheme is being prepared. As a result, many claims lodged with Employment Tribunals have now either been struck out or are in the process of being settled by employing authorities. Some claims may be affected by certain legal issues which have yet to be resolved.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many copies of the leaflet entitled "How you can shape the future of local government in your area" have been distributed in (a) Cheshire, (b) Lancashire, (c) Cumbria, (d) Greater Manchester, (e) Merseyside and (f) the North West Region; and what verification has been carried out to establish how many leaflets have been received by (i) households in each of those areas listed and by what date they were delivered and (ii) electors on the electoral register in the areas listed in (a) to (f) , with reference to (A) date of the register and (B) date of receipt. [155626]

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Mr. Raynsford: The conduct of local government reviews, including consultation on the draft recommendations, is a matter for the independent Boundary Committee.

London Boroughs (Grouping)

Mrs. Lait: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what discussions he has had with the Mayor of London about a possible new grouping of the London boroughs. [155025]

Mr. Raynsford: None.

Management Consultants

Mr. Flight: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the cost to his Department of using management consultants has been in each of the last five years. [148026]

Yvette Cooper: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) came into existence following the Machinery of Government changes on 29 May 2002. I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Liddell-Grainger) on 16 July 2003, Official Report, column 358W. The cost of using management consultants is not separately recorded and could be ascertained only at disproportionate cost.

Metropolitan Authorities

Mr. Brady: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister which metropolitan authorities have developed a medium term financial strategy for the next three to five years. [155993]

Mr. Raynsford: This information is not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost. However, from April 2004, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy's Prudential Code requires all local authorities to prepare each year estimates of their revenue and capital spending for three years ahead. They are also required to consider known significant variations beyond that timeframe. The Government strongly supports this requirement, and have given statutory backing to the Prudential Code using powers in the Local Government Act 2003.

Mr. Brady: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the budget overspend was for each metropolitan authority in each of the last three financial years; and what estimate he has made of budget overspends for the 2003–04 financial year. [155994]

Mr. Raynsford: The amount by which metropolitan authority spend has exceeded their budget forecast for 2000–01, 2001–02 and 2002–03 is as tabled. A negative figure shows that the authority spent less than their budget estimate.

No estimate has been made of the budget overspend for the 2003–04 financial year.


Newcastle upon Tyne-2,440-1,468-14,636
North Tyneside7,4104,1884,185
South Tyneside-4,222-5,943-5,264
St. Helens-5,165-6,956-2,938


The data are taken from the RA budget and RS outturn forms for each year.

The large under spend figure for Sunderland for 2000–01 is mainly attributable to a revenue receipt of £53.9 million in March 2001 being included in their accounts for that year.

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Mr. Brady: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister which metropolitan authorities have been warned by his Department that he may apply a council tax cap for the next financial year. [155995]

Mr. Raynsford: All local authorities have been put on notice that the Government considers that they can and should deliver council tax increases in low single figures in 2004–05. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is not pre-judging criteria for capping and will look at authorities' budgets and council tax figures before coming to a view on capping principles.

Mr. Brady: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister which metropolitan authorities have been identified by the Audit Commission in the last 10 years as having serious shortcomings in their financial controls; and what action his Department has taken in each case. [155996]

Mr. Raynsford: Until the Best Value framework was established by the Local Government Act 1999 and the results of Comprehensive Performance Assessments (CPAs) became available, central Government did not hold comprehensive information on which authorities the Audit Commission had identified as having serious shortcomings in their financial controls. Two metropolitan authorities now have been identified under these processes: Walsall, as the result of a corporate governance review, which found significant weaknesses in its financial processes; and North Tyneside, which scored the lowest possible rating for financial standing in its CPA.

Both Walsall and North Tyneside received overall assessments of "poor" in their CPA assessments. In common with other authorities assessed as poor, the

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Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has appointed a lead official to work closely with each authority, and is providing support at the appropriate level to achieve recovery, including thorough advice and help with capacity building.

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