Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340
MONDAY 20 APRIL 2009
Q340 Chair: Can I just follow up
on that point? In the evidence from the Department, Minister,
it was stated that the Government intends to develop detailed
policy statements over the coming months, "offering advice
and guidance at the local level" based on the Markets Policy
Framework produced by the All-Party Parliamentary Group. How far
have you got in those policy statements and is it going to cover
the sorts of detailed issues that we are currently talking about?
Mr Wright: We are at a relatively
early stage in respect of that. The timescale is the next couple
of months and what I would like to see is an element of consistency
with regard to that wider planning policy statement of Planning
for Prosperous Economies, which I think is very important
as well, so I will keep you very closely posted on that.
Q341 Anne Main: Minister, could I
ask you though, because you did not answer my question, I am sorry
to say, what information have any of the departments been given,
and can we have evidence that they are actually disseminating
this good practice, that it is not just the odd pilot scheme?
Also, who would co-ordinate those best practices that you think
are happening? How do we know? Who is doing it?
Mr Wright: I have mentioned two.
This is on the wider point of town centre management and that
point which I think is very important about providing a vision
about what a town centre does. In the 21st century what can it
offer local people? I would suggest that it needs to be more than
just shops. It needs to offer that wider point about government
services, about health, about retail. In terms of trying to address
that whilst at the same trying to address the specific concerns
of the recession, you may be aware of the announcement and the
publication of new guidance last week from the Secretary of State
from my Department, Hazel Blears, and also Andy Burnham at DCMS,
which is what town centres need to do in the current recession.
It could be to try and be as flexible as possible, to use vacant
units to encourage community groups, voluntary residents' associations
and health groups in order to push that vision.
Q342 Anne Main: I was specifically
talking about markets. The one thing about markets is that you
do not have to take a shop unit for six months or a year. You
could have a stall for a week here, a week there. It can be an
ever-evolving process, assuming there is a vacancy, and you did
suggest, before you moved helpfully on to retail units that might
be empty, that you thought that this would be a vehicle for delivery
of other government areas of concern, such as healthy eating and
information about benefits, and you mentioned some sort of medical
advice one-stop shop. Leaving aside the empty retail units, is
there anything you are going to be doing to markets to say that
this is how this is going to happen?
Mr Wright: I think one of the
things that government has to grapple with is how it gets its
message across on a whole variety of things. In the electronic
age, in terms of whether we use direct.gov.uk but also for people
who may not have access to the internet in deprived areas like
my own, how do you get that message across? I will hold my hands
up again and say I think we can be pushing that a lot more in
terms of using markets, using places where people congregate to
get important government messages across.
Anne Main: So how would it happen?
Q343 Chair: There are two slightly
separate things here, both of which are important. One is the
use of markets to get messages out, but the other issue behind
that, and I am not clear whether it is going to be within this
advice and guidance that you are currently considering, is the
role of markets in delivering wider national policy goals, one
of which, for example, is access, for people on low incomes, to
fresh fruit and vegetables. Many people say that markets are a
really good way of doing that. That appears to be a national policy
goal. Is that going to be one of the things that is spelt out
in the advice and guidance at a local level on markets, for example?
Mr Wright: Let me go away and
look at that in particular with regard to health. Can I mention
another matter, which is
Q344 Chair: Hang on a minute. In
terms of the work which the Department has done thus far on the
advice and guidance at local level which you are apparently developing
over the next few months, have other departments already been
asked to contribute to that?
Mr Wright: I am not entirely certain
so I will need to check.
Q345 Chair: Who has been doing it
within your Department then?
Mr Wright: In terms of the ministerial
responsibility or in terms of officials, because there are officials
working on it?
Q346 Chair: So there are officials
working on it, but who has ministerial responsibility?
Mr Wright: I have ministerial
Q347 Chair: But you do not know exactly
what they are up to?
Mr Wright: Can I mention a specific
example from my own constituency with regard to getting the message
across? In terms of jobs, Hartlepool remains relatively high in
terms of unemployment. There is an agency funded by the local
authority called Hartlepool Working Solutions, and we have an
indoor covered market in Hartlepool where a stall was taken
Q348 Mr Hands: We are back to your
Mr Wright: I think it is very
important that local authorities also have a role to play in terms
of different agencies.
Q349 Chair: Hang on; we are not letting
you off the hook so quickly. As you know, we are in the middle
of writing up our report on the balance of power between central
and local government, so take it as read that we do not think
that you should be, Stalinist-like, telling councils that they
need to do this and they need to do that. What we are asking is
whether, if government believes that there are some national policy
goals, of which an example would be access to cheap fruit and
veg which can be delivered through markets, that sort of guidance,
not instruction but guidance, is part of these detailed policy
statements which your Department is currently developing. That
is the first question.
Mr Wright: And I would certainly
say that is my ambition, yes.
Q350 Chair: The second thing then,
since it is quite clear that these policy things are pretty vague
at the moment, is that it would be very helpful to us as a Committee
to know the timescale on which they are going to be finalised
so that we can make sure that our report gives you lots of stuff
that you can put in these policy guidelines.
Mr Wright: I will certainly make
sure in the next couple of days that you get the timescales.
Chair: That would be extremely helpful.
Q351 Anne Main: Since you are responsible
for markets, and obviously we have just mentioned health, who
would be liaising between those other departments? Who will have
the responsibility to do that?
Mr Wright: In terms of liaising
with regard to make sure that a planning policy statement is published?
Q352 Anne Main: No, no. If there
is a health objective, for example, so that is the Department
of Health, not DCLG, who is going to be talking to the Department
of Health to ensure that what they wish to happen is reflected
in your planning policy guidances?
Mr Wright: Officials from my Department
will be liaising with their counterparts in the Department of
Q353 Anne Main: Is that happening
at the moment? Has that all been set up?
Mr Wright: My understanding is
that it has, yes.
Q354 Anne Main: So there will be
an official liaising with BERR, because it is the business side
Mr Wright: Yes. There are also
very strong links with Defra.
Anne Main: Defra is an obvious one, if
I might say. It is the other parts that are not so obvious that
we are trying to get at.
Q355 Chair: It is also within your
own Department. There is a role for markets within community cohesion,
for example, but it is within whatever bit it is of the Department
that is doing markets.
Mr Wright: My understanding is
that, yes, it is.
Chair: I think, Minister, we might have
to write to you after this with a series of questions to make
sure we have covered everything, but we would certainly like a
note from you afterwards on the time line so that we can make
sure that we can contribute to this area of policy which is clearly
quite skeletal at the moment.
Anne Main: But vital.
Chair: But vital, absolutely. Thank you
very much, Minister.