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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I wish to speak to both orders and to the amendment in the name of the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss. In Humberside, we are seeing the replacement of Humberside County Council and 69 district councils by four unitary authorities. That has received widespread support. As my noble friend Lady Farrington said, it is important, indeed vital, that people's wishes in that respect are considered. A MORI poll showed that 65 per cent. of the population there is in favour of unitary authorities and only 23 per cent. is against. While there is strong attachment to towns and cities in Humberside, only 9 per cent. of the population identified itself with Humberside, excellent though the delivery of its services clearly is.
Further, this reorganisation in Humberside scores on the potential effectiveness of service delivery. The noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, notwithstanding, the Local Government Commission made the point that to the two major challenges facing local government in the next decadecare in the community on the one hand and the prevention of crime and social alienation on the otherunitary authorities combining social services, housing, education, youth and community services can offer a
This reorganisation scores, too, on efficiency and cost savings. It isas was Cleveland and Avonrespecting the national agreements on 100 per cent. staff transfers and the no detriment clauses, although the Government are still failing to produce the more generous voluntary redundancy agreements experienced in the 1986 review. Of the nine MPs for the area, only two do not support it, and one of those supported unitary status for the City of Hull.
Within this reorganisation, which, as I say, has been widely welcomed and meets all the criteria laid down by the Local Government Commission, there are at least two points that I hope the Minister may care to address. The first, which was absolutely rightly raised by my noble friend Lord Gladwin, is the number of councillors. In these authorities the total number of councillors will be reduced and the rural areas especially will suffer something of a democratic deficit in consequence.
It is worth reminding ourselves that already in Britain we have fewer councillors per thousand population than anywhere that I am aware of in Europe, where the average is one councillor to perhaps 250 or 500 people. At the moment in England it is something like one to 1,250 people. Under these proposals and the guidelines of the Local Government Commission, it is nearer one councillor to 4,000 people. North Lincolnshire, for example, will see the total number of councillors fall from 100 down to 42. That is really rather unwise. Local government is notBaines notwithstandinga specimen of corporate management. Its very real strength lies in its local representative quality and its committee rather than cabinet system of governance so that all services are collectively run co-operatively across all parties. To do so, and to make possible a committee structure with this range of responsibilities, needs an adequate number of councillors if one is not to force them to become full time, which I personally would not wish to see.
That, frankly, is the Local Government Commission at its silliest, hoping that by making the situation worse one will thereby force a remedy. As far as I am aware the Militant Tendency has given that up as a viable option.
The other point that I hope the Minister will pursue is the City of Hull boundary. The city wanted to extend into Beverley and Holderness the built up areas which use its services. I recognise that the Local Government Commission found that three-quarters of those in Beverley, and even more in Holderness, were reluctant to enter the Hull boundaries. The Government accepted the Local Government Commission's view. I think we all appreciate that this is a difficult matter but this is one issue of boundary that I am confident will have to be addressed by the Boundary Commission fairly soon.
I now wish to turn to North Yorkshire. Here, the City of York is to become a unitary authority and the rest of North Yorkshire is to remain two-tier. The noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, raises two issues in her amendmentthe Yorkshire Museum and the boundary of York. As regards the Yorkshire Museum, I accept that museum professionals across the country are worried that county museum services may be fragmented. Yet it is worth reminding ourselves that the City Council of York already runs the York Castle Museum, its city art gallery and its city archive service, which is somewhat unusual. Until 1974 it ran the Yorkshire Museum as well. I think all of us accept that it is hard to believe it could not run the Yorkshire Museum; the question is how wide and comprehensive the service will be. I think we recognise that the trustee deeds insist that the museum must be returned to the City of York from which it originated, and of course the City of York could offer lead services to North Yorkshire if it desired. I hope that the call of the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, that there should at the very least be county representation among the trustees is observed. That seems to me entirely reasonable. I believe that should go hand in hand with a continuing financial contribution.
I also support the concern of the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, as regards the City of York's boundaries, to which the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, also spoke with his customary and elegant moderation. The current population of York is drawn on tight boundaries100,000and there has not been a general review since the 1950s. The city itself, as many of your Lordships have said, proposed to take its boundaries out to the immediate built-up area; that is, to the outer ring road, which would have raised the city's population to 125,000. The Local Government Commission recommendedand the Government acceptedthat it should go out far beyond that to what it calls the greater York area, increase its population to some 167,000, and multiply its size by some 900 per cent., into neighbouring Ryedale, Selby and Harrogate. Why should that be? Both the Local Government Commission and the Government have been accused of political gerrymandering. What is the case is that the Local Government Commission's recommendations which the Government have followed are unduly influenced by issues of size.
It assumes that 125,000 is not enough and therefore pushes the population up to 167,000. It does so because it assumes that the City of York needs both a stronger revenue base and, frankly, more people. The Local Government Commission and the Government are wrong on both counts. As regards the stronger revenue base, that would not be an issue if Government did two things that we on these Benches have been calling for for many years. On the one hand standard spending assessments should reflect the additional responsibilities of regional capital cities such as York, their stock of historic buildings and their pressures for planning, car parking, street cleaning and cultural services. If SSAs
The other way in which the demands and needs of York for appropriate finances should be metagain something that we have called for from these Benches on every possible occasionis through the return to local authorities of the business rate; in other words, the denationalisation of business rates and their return to the local authorities from which they emanate. I am confident that the York business community is paying far more to central government than the city receives back from the national business rate on the basis of the population formula. In comparable cities, the business community contributes at least twice as much to the national Exchequer as the city receives back in business rates.
Those two measuresthe reorganisation of standard spending assessments and a return of the business rate to local governmentare the right ways to strengthen the revenue base, not a simple extension of boundaries. In any case, the Government's concept of enabling authorities, which was much in play when the Bill went through your Lordships' House, should allow them to avoid the numbers game.
The Local Government Commission is also wrong in its assumption that the city needs more people. That is again mistaken. The Local Government Commission shares, although to a reduced degree, the fallacious view exemplified in Derek Senior's call, as a dissenting member of the Redcliffe Maud Commission of 1969, for city regions. Derek Senior was wrong then and the Local Government Commission is wrong now.
By extending the boundaries as proposed, the new York will include the old city with population densities of more than 350 people per 10 hectares as well as rural parishes with population sparsityin Holtby and Stockton on the Forest of less than 10 people per 10 hectares, where they are greatly outnumbered by their sheep.
In such a boundary reorganisation, the concept of the city loses its identity. Its edges blur into rural communities. It loses its distinctive character. Far from achieving economies of scale, the distances almost certainly mean diseconomies of scale as a result of which the City of York will have to spend more to provide the same level of service to the scattered populations of villages miles from the city hall.
It is a fallacy. Those villages are not thinned out towns and should not be included. The city and the country are different. One manages the problems of density and the other the problems of sparsity. They should not be homogenised to suit the fleeting managerial whims of the Local Government Commission.
The Local Government Commission seems to think that there is general support for expansion and relatively little hostility to the new unitary authority extending to the greater planning area. That is clear from page 17. How wrong it is. Poll after poll, and noble Lord after noble Lord this evening, have shown that three-quarters of the people of York want the ring road boundaries and
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, forcefully and correctly quoted the representations made to the Local Government Commission. There were 30 people and one voluntary organisation in favour: 1,066 people, seven local authorities, 26 parishes and 11 voluntary organisations were opposed, as well as the local MP for York and MPs for adjacent Ryedale and Selby.
This is a grave mistake. The proposed boundaries are deeply opposed by residents both within and outside the ring road. A ring road York is entirely competent to carry out the full range of services. Extending its boundaries will add more to costs than the city will gain in revenue. Above all, it blurs the distinctiveness of the natural and historic community of the City of York, which was what the local government review was designed to achieve.
I conclude on a different point. These are the last of the three orders on the counties created in 1974. We are now moving into the strategic framework outlined in the Statement in the other place, with its proposals for giving unitary status to former county boroughs and historic cities, which was welcomed by my right honourable friend Mr. Dobson. In the 1970s and 1980s these Benches called for such a proposal, and called it organic change. It could, and I hope will, provide the basis for a coherent and stable system of local government across England until, if and when we reconsider the wider constitutional settlement involving regional structures in the years to come.
Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, first I should like to join with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, in paying tribute to the work done by the members and officers of Humberside County Council. I agree with the noble Baronesses that, as the Minister of State and Under-Secretary of State have said in another place, reorganisation is not about passing judgment upon existing councils. It is concerned with the best structures for future local government in the areas concerned. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was quite right again in attributing the remarks that she made about Avon to Humberside: the situation has not really gelled in people's minds or appealed to their instincts.
I am grateful to your Lordships for the constructive and helpful contributions to tonight's debate and for the general welcome that noble Lords have given to our proposals for HumbersideI think that they were generally welcomedand the rather more muted welcome for the proposals for York. Your Lordships have raised a number of points. I shall attempt to reply to as many as possible in the time available.
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