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Helen Goodman: This collection of amendments relates to clause 19, which sets out the partners that must work with local authorities to tackle child poverty at a local level. As child poverty is complex and multifaceted, it is clear that a range of partners must be engaged in local action on this issue. I remind the Committee that the clear message when we consulted on the content of the Bill was that measures to promote local action would succeed only if they covered action by all relevant partners in a local strategic partnership. We heard that again from the local partners who gave evidence to the Committee on 20 October. This is one reason why we have included police authorities and chief officers of police in the list of partners in the clause. Amendment 3, which was tabled by the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire, would remove them from that list.
Everyone in the room will agree that crime blights the lives of many families living in the most deprived areas. For example, in 2008-09, the burglary rate for households in the most deprived areas was more than double that in the least deprived areas. Crime must therefore be tackled if we are to improve children’s life chances. The vast majority of poor families are hard working and law abiding. However, when parents do engage in crime, it increases the likelihood that their children will suffer from poverty and deprivation. I emphasise to the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire that we are asking the police to be involved in the needs assessment and the strategy formulation. I am sure that he can see that the police are a centrally important partner in assessing what is going on in a local area and deciding what actions should be taken.
Andrew Selous: I do not dispute for one moment that crime is a blight on every community in this country and that it often impacts disproportionately on the poorest—the Minister is absolutely right to say that. However, coming back to the Bill and the targets in clause 2 to 5, the only one she can hang this on is material deprivation because all the others relate to specific levels of income. Looking again at the list of questions to adults and children about material deprivation, I cannot see one that relates to crime. How will we tie in the police if they are not on the Minister’s list in the area that she claims is important?
11.15 am
Helen Goodman: Let me give another example, which is connected to something that one of my hon. Friends said. It is well known that children whose parents have been found guilty of criminal activity are themselves far more likely to be found guilty of such activities. That clearly impacts on their capacity to find work, better themselves and move out of poverty. Over the last three weeks, the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire has repeatedly emphasised the importance of getting to the root of the problem. I would have thought that he would acknowledge this to be one area where we are doing just that.
Amendment 62 has been tabled by the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness.
Ms Keeble: Does my hon. Friend envisage prisons being involved either under this clause or clause 20?
Helen Goodman: Any other body can be involved under clause 20(1)(c), if that is believed to be helpful to the delivery of the strategy. I have not considered the case of prisons before now, so I will not make any commitments to my hon. Friend on that point.
Let me return to the issue of mental health trusts. Nobody doubts the significant link between mental health issues and the causes and consequences of child poverty. In preparing the Bill, we considered including mental health trusts in the list of named partner authorities. However, after discussions with stakeholders, we concluded that it was important to commit those bodies with strategic influence, including those with responsibility for commissioning services, to the requirements in part 2 of the Bill. Strategic health authorities and primary care trusts are listed as partner authorities.
Mr. Stuart: I put it to the Minister that mental health trusts do effectively commission services from organisations other than themselves. They drive the delivery of mental health services in a local area. They are not primarily driven by PCTs, let alone strategic health authorities.
Helen Goodman: I am sorry, but I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s description of the institutional architecture. Mental health trusts may provide good services and be imaginative and creative, but the commissioning body is the PCT.
Steve Webb: I am doing my best to be helpful this morning, but I cannot keep it up. The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness makes an important point. The Minister refers to “institutional architecture”. Presumably, when every trust is a foundation trust, it will be even more the case that such bodies are free-standing and able to set their own agenda and priorities. If there is a problem with a constituent regarding mental health issues, one does not on the whole go to the PCT, but to the mental health trust. Given that the Government thought about doing that in the first place—it is not an off-the-wall suggestion—will the Minister think about it again and perhaps return to the matter later?
Helen Goodman: No. Although foundation trusts can raise money from other sources, they may use that only for the purpose of providing the goods and services agreed on with PCTs. It would, in any event, constitute only a minor proportion of a foundation trust’s income and would not deflect from the PCT’s requirements under the Bill.
Ms Keeble: Does my hon. Friend agree that the role of the PCT in mapping out mental health needs for communities is particularly important? She has pointed out, as I think others have, that people move in and out of mental illness. Therefore, the role of the body with a wider remit for mapping out the commissioning is particularly important, because it will be much more accurate in picking up the real needs and impact of mental health on the community and on child poverty. It is therefore right to have the PCT as a partner authority.
Helen Goodman: My hon. Friend has expressed the position beautifully; I wish I had been as clear myself.
I also want to pray in aid the wonderful clause 20(1)(c). It states that in a local area, if it is decided that there is a particular problem, it will be possible to co-opt a mental health trust. We seek, as I have said, to reproduce the arrangements, which we have, in the local strategic partnership for the sustainable communities strategy. We are not trying to set up a whole new bureaucratic system, or a whole new set of burdens on local authorities, and I would have thought that Opposition Members appreciated that point.
Mr. Stuart: The Minister is being very generous in giving way. I understand her logic, but, speaking to local authorities and other agencies, one of the hardest groups to deal with is health. It is very hard to get health to work in such partnerships as it tends to bounce off. Mental health is so critical to child poverty that I ask her to think again. We can say that health “may” get involved, but it is difficult to get it to come to the table if it is not under a duty to do so.
Helen Goodman: I have explained that the Bill adequately covers the planning and delivery of mental health services. We will publish statutory guidance on part 2 and consult on the preparation of that guidance. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity to look at the guidance. We can then take account of his views. With that reassurance, I hope that he will not press his amendment to a Division.
My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North tabled amendment 73, which would add regional development agencies and learning and skills councils to the list of partner authorities. As she pointed out, RDAs have an important role to play in driving regional economic activity, increasing employment opportunities and supporting businesses through the current economic climate. Regional activity is important and sets a framework for local action.
However, following the recommendations of the review of sub-national economic development and regeneration, we are actively seeking to strengthen the role of local authorities in promoting economic regeneration, including the introduction of a new duty to conduct an assessment of local economic conditions. Local action on economic development has greater potential to have a direct impact on child poverty by focusing the efforts of partners on employment for parents, as part of economic and community regeneration in disadvantaged areas. As responsibility for economic development and funding is being actively devolved to local authorities, including RDAs as statutory partners, it would detract from that enhanced role to add an additional layer of bureaucracy, which would not necessarily add value to local decision making.
I know that my hon. Friend’s amendment is supported by London Councils. Of course, arrangements can vary in different parts of the country, depending on circumstances, and we have set up the arrangements to achieve that. I hope that the flexibility we are offering in clause 20, which would enable London local authorities to go down a slightly different route from others, is sufficient to enable her to withdraw her amendment relating to the RDAs.
In respect of learning and skills councils, we recognise that addressing the skills agenda is crucial to tackling poverty in a sustainable way. Indeed, the Bill refers to that. The LSC has not been included in the list of partners as under the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, which is currently going through the House, it is proposed that the LSC will be disbanded in 2010, with responsibility for the planning, funding and commissioning of skills provision for 16 to 19-year-olds shifting to local authorities. It is therefore not necessary to engage an additional partner.
Responsibility for funding adult skills provision will move to the new national body, the Skills Funding Agency. As the arrangements for co-ordinating adult skills provision locally emerge, local authorities may choose to use clause 20(1) to engage additional local partners such as local employment and skills boards. Consultation on the Bill demonstrated that it is important that local partners are able to deliver its requirements through existing partnership arrangements. We were therefore concerned to avoid compiling and prescribing an excessively lengthy list of partner authorities. Child poverty is a pervasive and significant issue of interest to a wide range of individuals and organisations, but the list could have become unworkable. That is why we have focused on the key influencers in local strategic partnerships, which allowed the flexibility to co-opt further partners in clause 20.
I hope that hon. Members are satisfied that, for the reasons I have set out, the current list of statutory partners is appropriate. Police forces should not be removed from the list as they are already a key partner within local strategic partnerships, but the local commissioning role of PCTs means that it is not necessary to add specific health providers such as mental health trusts. Finally, the enhanced role for local authorities in managing the skills and economic development agenda means that adding RDAs and the LSC would introduce an additional layer of bureaucracy to partnership working. I therefore urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.
Andrew Selous: The Minister did not mention this, but the first thing I said was that amendment 3 was a probing amendment to tease out the Government’s thinking about the inclusion of police authorities and chief officers of police. Should the Government continue to ask the LSP to undertake a further range of different functions, we may have to revisit the question whether the LSP, as currently constituted, is always the correct body of organisations to confront every issue that the Government throw at it. I will say no more than that. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Chairman: Would you like to move your amendment formally, Mr. Stuart?
11.30 am
Mr. Stuart: I will speak quickly and then do so. I am grateful for the Minister’s comments about statutory guidance. If the Government persist in their current line that mental health trusts should not be included in the list of partner authorities, I hope that the guidance will provide added traction to make it likely that they will participate in a local strategy. However, I do not accept the point that the PCTs are the effective local commissioners of mental health services. I have a local mental health trust in my area that goes across more than one PCT. It is a powerful institution in its own right. It is going for foundation status. It is an effective commissioner of services and is critical to child poverty issues. Therefore, I wish to press my amendment to a vote.
Amendment proposed: 62, in clause 19, page 11, line 3, at end add—
‘(i) a Mental Health Trust.’.—(Mr. Stuart.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 8.
Division No. 8]
Baron, Mr. John
Barrett, John
Gauke, Mr. David
Howell, John
Selous, Andrew
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Webb, Steve
Blackman, Liz
Buck, Ms Karen
Goodman, Helen
Keeble, Ms Sally
Mallaber, Judy
Mudie, Mr. George
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
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