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Julia Goldsworthy: The hon. Gentleman is talking about the proposals put forward by councils, but 43 per cent. of the proposals that have gone forward to the LGA are related to devolving powers in respect of
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finance and decision making. Does not that make it even more important that the local spending reports are meaningful documents?

Mr. Drew: Absolutely, and I take in good faith what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in that regard. We need to get this right, but that will not necessarily be that easy and we will not get it right first time. Let us be realistic: this is an evolving and complicated process. We are trying to force central Government to come to terms with giving out spending information. I think that the Department for Communities and Local Government understands that, but I am worried about other Departments. DCLG should be given every encouragement in this debate to poke and prod, and to ask, request and demand the necessary information, because without it the legislation will fall down. If we are not careful, we will encounter the usual reluctance-from the Treasury, dare I say it?-with the result that the information that we want will not be forthcoming.

I say let us get behind DCLG and give it every encouragement. Let us look at the new politics and make sure that the Department is given every opportunity to make this piece of legislation work.

Some of us are still struggling a little bit with how the Total Place campaign relates to the Sustainable Communities Act 2007. If someone could spell that out, it could not but help. If Total Place is a good model that we could extend and expand into the wider operation of the Act, we should get on and do it. We must make sure that there are not two processes that collide with one another and cause confusion. Some people are lucky enough to be in the pilot areas-and yippee for them-but it would not be right if the rest of us were to be merely marginal players and regarded as an afterthought.

Julia Goldsworthy: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Drew: I will give way once more to my co-conspirator.

Julia Goldsworthy: I am very grateful, and I hope that this intervention is helpful. One of the key issues raised by the Secretary of State was that the format under which the local spending reports were set up made it more difficult to provide the meaningful information that the hon. Gentleman wants. However, the legislation makes the position absolutely clear. Clause 6(1) of the 2007 Act states:

So the Department does not have to publish the reports, but merely has to enable their publication. There is therefore no reason why the remit of the Total Place pilots could not be expanded to include publication of the reports.

Mr. Drew: I take that as read. The hon. Lady is my hon. Friend in this respect, and the people involved in those pilots have to read the legislation just as she and I have to. As I said, the process will evolve: it will not necessarily be right first time, but we have to get it right because we have to make people confident that the process is meaningful. It must engender belief that there is trust between local government and national Government-and, more importantly, between other
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players. We have not said an awful lot about the other agencies that we need to engage with, and I am talking, of course, about those in the voluntary sector.

If we get the process right, the greatest winners will be people in the voluntary sector. People in the statutory sector often say that an idea is great but that it cannot be done as there is no funding to lock it in place, but the legislation means that people in the voluntary sector will be able, for the first time, to insist on an examination of how public money is spent.

Passenger transport offers a real-life example. We all know that there are countless minibuses rushing around taking all sorts of people to different venues, but I am pleased to say that the local spending reports cannot but allow things to be done better, more effectively and in a fairer way. That is something that we need to get in place. We need to argue for it, and hope that the programme goes forward.

In this House, adversity and argument have their place but they are not always the best way to make progress. Sometimes we need to try and find compromise and consensus. In the end, we have to take a cross-party approach, as there are so many different elements involved. We all know that we cannot necessarily rely on our friends in local government to see things in exactly the same way that we, in our lofty position, see them. We have to work things out in a way that ensures that everyone gains.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke about the Regional Select Committees, which I think have been an interesting experiment. They can be a bit lonely, particularly when they are not quorate and people have to be dragged in. That is a pity, and there is nothing more to be said about that, but they can be interesting when people are brought in to give evidence. In areas such as transport and health, and certainly environmental protection, it makes a lot of sense to have a body that looks beyond immediate localities and considers an area which, whether we like it or not, could be called a region. We need a grown-up dialogue about how we can make sense of that and get some proper consultation-and more particularly some transparency when it comes to accountability-at that level.

I will support the Government tonight- [ Interruption. ] Or even this afternoon: it just feels like tonight, and I should not rush to the next debate. I believe that what those of us who have been involved in the campaign on this matter have done is negotiate, argue and persuade. We have tried to take the Government along with us.

I know that there has been consternation in some parts of the Government about the Sustainable Communities Act 2007, which they see as wishy-washy stuff. It has taken quite a lot of effort to persuade people that it is a meaningful bit of legislation and that it is not outwith other aspects of the Government's agenda. We believe that it could be central to many of the things that we want, and it is really exciting. That is something that I do not want to lose: the Act is really exciting and meaningful, and I hope that the debate will help us to make it more so. That is better than being distracted by churlish point-scoring, which is not at all helpful.

3.9 pm

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): I want to begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member
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for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) on introducing this subject. She has followed up the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) in getting this very important piece of legislation on the statute book, and making certain that the aspirations expressed in it are not allowed to rest on the shelf but are followed through.

The subject of the debate, local spending reports, sounds dry and bureaucratic, but it is nothing of the kind. It certainly is not a wishy-washy aspiration-the phrase which was not used by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) himself, but which he reported as being used by others. This is a debate about access to and use of power. For that reason, it is hugely important.

In his closing passage, the Secretary of State referred to the importance of Total Place, which develops many of these ideas, as one of the major reform programmes for the future of public services. I entirely agree. This is a debate about power. When the Secretary of State moved off his introductory rant about planning policy and got on to the subject of the debate, what was revealed was an important consensus between those on the two Front Benches-a consensus of rhetoric and a consensus of aspiration-to ensure that information is made available about the level of spending in each locality, in order that we can embark on the kind of reform programme implicit in the Secretary of State's references to Total Place.

So far, so good. There is, across the party political divide, a shared aspiration. There is certainly shared rhetoric. The reason my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden was right to call the debate is that although there is shared rhetoric and shared aspiration, the Government must be accountable for the pace of advance towards achieving the aspiration set out in the 2007 Act, which we are impatient to see carried through.

When put under pressure on specific aspects of the delivery of local spending reports, the Secretary of State repeatedly retreated into the proposition, "This is a first step. We'll do better. There's a further report in December. Please refer to my lecture of last week. I'm on your side really. I'm in the jungle and lots of people are against me."

I suspect that that is an accurate description of the right hon. Gentleman's position. His predecessors signed up on behalf of the Government to making the information available in order to achieve a transfer of power and, surprise, surprise, when the Secretary of State now tries to deliver on that aspiration, by making the information available-in his own words, in a timeous fashion-he is encountering the classic Whitehall resistance programme: "It's frightfully difficult, old boy. We don't collect information in quite this form. It's terribly expensive. It would be very time consuming." Anybody who has spent any time in a Whitehall office has heard it before. It is like drawing teeth.

That is the central charge that my hon. Friend makes against the Government-not that there is not a desire in the fullness of time to see the reform as a good thing, but that from the outside there is a sense that the delivery of the aspiration is disappointing. Looking step by step at the stages that we are going through, and the arguments that are being used, it feels like drawing teeth against Sir Humphrey.

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Julia Goldsworthy: Is that not disappointing, given the great opportunity to engage with the many thousands of people who want the process to work?

Mr. Dorrell: I could not agree more. It was the hon. Lady who stressed the importance of the programme as a power transfer. It is a power transfer in the spirit of the times, but it is a power transfer with which people in Whitehall do not feel very comfortable.

I want to substantiate my sense that the delivery of the aspiration is like drawing teeth. I accept that the Government are now on this square, but it was only at the second attempt that the Government included the Department for Work and Pensions budget in the local spending report. What on earth is the sense of trying to get the Government to look across departmental boundaries if we do not include the DWP budget in the project? But the Government did not get there the first time; they only got there the second time.

Then there is the list of exemptions that are still not included in the current proposals for local spending reports. In an intervention, I asked the Secretary of State about the probation service. He did not even try to defend its exclusion. He as good as said that he agreed with me and that it would not be on the list next time. Let us go through one or two of the others-for example, the Learning and Skills Council.

Why on earth is the Learning and Skills Council even claiming the right to exemption? It would be slightly different if it said, "Sorry, we are not here now, but we will be here in a couple of months when we have sorted out the practical difficulties", but we are being asked to accept, at least on the face of it, that the LSC should not be part of local spending reports. I do not accept that. It is disappointing that the Secretary of State is not prepared to say on the record that he does not accept it, either.

Another offender on the list is an institution for which I used to be responsible a long time ago, the Arts Council. There is not a shred of a reason why the Arts Council England should claim an exemption from the process. I know exactly why it is on the list. It is because it is embarrassed about the scale of funding that goes to the Royal Opera House and the London symphony orchestras, and the focus on London. It has its own private reasons for not wanting to see that information revealed. Who does the Arts Council think it is kidding? We know who the recipients are of Arts Council funding. Why does it almost draw attention to that by claiming exemption from such a programme? I could go on through the list, but I will not detain the House by doing so.

We are embarked on something that is important. There is a genuine will-a genuine willingness, at least-on both sides of the House to see the programme pursued. What we looked for from the Government, and the reason why the Opposition motion is rightly critical of them, is not simply a feeling of good will towards something that is a good thing, like apple pie and motherhood, but a willingness to fight battles to achieve the publication, because what we are seeking to achieve is a transfer of information, and therefore of power, from central Government to local government, and a willingness on the part of the Secretary of State to recognise that that battle will not be fought and won without his full-hearted consent and willingness to engage on behalf of an important principle.

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The Total Place initiative in my constituency, in Leicester and Leicestershire, which is led by David Parsons, focuses on drug and alcohol services. There is no better example of a set of services that have for a long time been the prisoner of interdepartmental barriers and the inability to use funds from one budget in support of a relatively small group of vulnerable people across departmental boundaries.

I am delighted that Leicester city council and Leicestershire county council are embarked on a Total Place project to try to break down those barriers, but that makes no sense if the probation service and the youth offenders service are exempt from the process of empowerment through publication of information and, more positively, because drug and alcohol services are not just about treating the immediate need; they are also about improving life chances. How is it possible to deliver improved life chances for people suffering from drug and alcohol problems if it is not permitted to look across the fence into the LSC, the youth sports council and other services of that nature?

The Leicester and Leicestershire Total Place project is a very good step in the right direction, but it is also a good illustration of what is wrong with the Government's delivery of their promise on the publication of information. We look to the Secretary of State to read his own lecture, to believe his own rhetoric, and to fight battles on behalf of the people who will benefit from the improved delivery of public service that will result from the successful delivery of those aspirations.

3.19 pm

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I think that I am the only hon. Member to speak who was not here when the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 was introduced. At that time, I was doing pioneering work as a county councillor in Oxfordshire to try to work out how spending could be allocated and understood in terms of my own division and the major settlements within it. Although that information was not readily available in the sense of being kept in that form all the time, it was not difficult to make that information available and to bring it together. That allowed me to look at how much was spent, particularly in the poorest village, and that was not simply to answer the question, "What do I get for my council tax?", but to answer the question that others were asking, "Is the spend in the right place?"

When I listen to and read the statements from some of the agencies that have been too frightened to engage in the process, I imagine that the same arguments must have been run at the time of universal suffrage: do we trust the people enough to be able to grant them the vote? Exactly the same argument runs behind this: do we trust people to have the information? In the case of the information that I produced for my county council division and the conversations that I had, I had every right to trust people with that information. By and large they did not ask why they had or did not have a certain amount of money; they engaged in a much more intelligent debate about the priorities for the area and where was the best place for that money to be spent.

One of the issues that I had to deal with was raised by the Secretary of State-how to decide on the allocation of spending where it affected more than one area. The answer was simple. A judgment has to be made, the
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criteria are decided and those are the criteria that are made available. The issue at that micro-level concerned bus subsidies. The subsidy on a bus route clearly benefits the length of the bus route and the people who live along it, whether they are in a state of need or not. I took the view that the bus subsidy should be allocated to the place where it had the most social effect, for which it was designed. Everyone understood that. It was understood by the richer neighbouring villages, and there was no disagreement.

Julia Goldsworthy: Again, the legislation makes it clear that the area covered can be one or more parts, whole local authority areas or any combination, and can include any other arrangements. There can be different arrangements for different reports. That is not excluded by the legislation.

John Howell: The hon. Lady is right. My point, to reinforce the comments that have been made, is that it is necessary to decide and to be open about the criteria that are used.

The need for such information is even more crucial in an age of partnership. Many of us who were in local government when the partnership regime came in were quite cynical about it and about the democratic deficit, but having lived with it and seen it, I appreciate the enormous advantages of being able to organise services on a much better basis. However, it can still be opaque. For example, the use of pooled budgets provides little in the way of transparency, both about what is sought to be achieved and about the money that goes into them. What is missing from that is not so much the idea of pooled budgets, but aligned budgets, which again comes back to transparency and the need to ensure that everyone understands that.

The Total Place experiment has been mentioned, and I was particularly interested in that. Criticisms of the programme have largely been seen as practical, but in evidence to the Public Bill Committee on the Child Poverty Bill, the leader of Kent county council says that while he is

So it is more than just a question of picking up the pragmatics of how Total Place works; it is also about getting to the concept of it and getting the agencies to agree that they are participating in a programme that is worth while.

Again, the Secretary of State mentioned on a number of occasions-I got the impression that this was his view of the main purpose of this measure-that this was all about allowing local government to scrutinise the amount of its expenditure. Scrutiny is a very important function. Local government is growing into it in a dynamic way, and it has the ability to achieve some important results and to take forward different initiatives. However, it is about much more than scrutiny; it is about the ability to reorganise services on the ground in a fundamental and practical way.

The leader of Kent county council made the point in a particularly fantastic way to the Public Bill Committee in relation to the Total Place experiment. He talked about his Margate renewal initiative, which relates to vulnerable families there, and he said:

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