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Viscount Ullswater: My noble friend Lord Holderness, in welcoming the Humberside order, as other noble Lords did, talked about the wisdom of the order and indicated that he had lived for 50 years in the East Riding and perhaps regretted the past 25 years during which he had been forced to live in Humberside
My noble friend Lord Holderness also reckoned that there were savings to be made from the new arrangements. The Government share the district's view that there is substantial scope for improved efficiency and savings; but it is up to the new unitaries to ensure that the potential for savings is realised. The number of local authorities in Humberside will be reduced from 11 to four. I expect that to create scope for savings which will more than offset the transitional costs and provide lasting benefits for local people.
The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, began her remarks with what I thought were rather uncharacteristic sentiments. She said that the local government review in general, not necessarily just for these two counties, was begun in a spirit of malicethose, I believe, were the words that she usedand when dealing with Avon, Cleveland and Humberside, they were "doomed from the outset". Again, I believe that those were her words.
There was no prior consultation at the start of the review on the right structure in principle. I do not feel that it would be right for me to rise to the noble Baroness's bait on the "spirit of malice". The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and I agreed that some of the 1974 creations, particularly Avon and Humberside and perhaps Cleveland, have commanded less public affection and support than their long-established neighbours. As to prior consultation on the principle, is it not perhaps an advantage of the review that it did not begin with a predetermined approach but allowed different solutions to emerge in different areas with different circumstances?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that on every occasion when successive Secretaries of State have referred to Cleveland, Avon and Humberside, the content of their speeches has always been "the sooner those new counties go the better"? Does he also agree that the review started earlier? In the case of Humberside it began in 1985 when the boundary commission was asked to look at the matter. In his own words when speaking of Avon, did not the noble Viscount refer to the fact that there was a difference between people's sense of place and their sense of the best structure for delivering services, and whether or not they were necessarily the same?
Lord Bancroft: My Lords, perhaps I may beg the indulgence of the House, just to recall that it is a matter of public record that the former chairman of the Local Government Commission for England, Sir John Banham, in 1993 wrote to his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, saying in effect that "We want early wins in Cleveland, Avon and Humberside".
Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, perhaps that just reflects what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggested; namely, that they had not made the friends from 1974 onwards. I do not believe that there has been any problem when talking about those three counties.
The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, asked about the redundancy scheme being inadequate and much less generous than the 1986 provisions. The present scheme balances fairness to the individual with affordability to the taxpayer. It would be irresponsible to adopt a scheme in 1994 simply because it matched what was done eight years ago. Whatever the justification for previous schemes, they should not determine what is to be available now. The circumstances in local government are now different from those in previous reorganisations and it is important to avoid placing extra demands on public resources.
The noble Baroness indicated that the transitional cost figure of £50 million for 1995-96 was not additional. It is additional. Without reorganisation, the settlement total would have been lower. It is not true to say that the £50 million has been top-sliced.
The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, queried whether the start dates for the assumption of power should be the same for all authorities. The Government wish the playing field to be as level as possible. That was taken into account when drafting the order. All authorities, including the districts which are to be combined to form new authorities, will have equal powers and duties to co-operate and prepare for reorganisation both before and after elections. We took the view that none of the authorities involved would forego the opportunities provided by the order. Certainly it would be wrong to take steps to hold back authorities artificially by saying that none can start preparing for reorganisation until after the May elections.
My noble friend Lord Gisborough and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwin, were worried about the management of the Humber estuary and training in Humberside. The Humberside Training and Enterprise Council covers the whole of the existing area of the County of Humberside. The TEC is active in Humberside Forum Limited, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwin, and has been a partner in a number of bids for support under the single regeneration budget. We understand that, following reorganisation, the TEC will retain its existing boundaries and continue to work with businesses and communities on both sides of the Humber River. The Humber Forum is at present composed of all nine district councils in the existing County of Humberside, plus the Humber Chamber of Trade, the Humberside TEC, the University of Hull and the National Rivers Authority, which are associate members. That body tackles issues across the region and with others is preparing a strategy for the estuary region. The Government acknowledge the contribution made by these different organisations involved in the area and hope that their work will continue. The Government wish to see continued co-operation on economic and planning issues between local authorities across the Humber.
The noble Lord and my noble friend Lord Gisborough asked whether there would be separate structure plans for the areas north and south of the Humber, and whether the nature conservation interests in the estuary, which were currently covered by the Humberside county structure plan, would be undermined. Ministers have stated their desire to see continued co-operation on planning issues across the Humber. The present Humberside Structure Plan contains policies for the protection of wildlife of significance. On reorganisation, these policies will continue until they are replaced by provisions prepared by the new authorities. In preparing structure plan proposals, the new authorities will be required to have regard not only to regional planning guidance, which covers the whole of the estuary, but also to consult neighbouring authorities. These measures will help to ensure that proper consideration is given to cross-estuarial planning issues. The Humber estuary management strategy currently in preparation will also assist the wider development plan and process on both banks of the Humber.
The noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, was worried about disruption to essential services. I indicated in my opening remarks that all staff providing the essential front line services such as the teachers and the care workers will transfer automatically on reorganisation day by statutory transfer order. The noble Lord also asked what would happen if the voluntary basis of structure planning did not work. Some safeguard is needed. In the unlikely event that it should become necessary, the Secretary of State has reserve powers under Section 21 of the Local Government Act 1992 to establish a statutory joint authority to prepare such a plan for combined local authority areas if voluntary arrangements fail.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked a number of questions to which I hope I shall be able to give at least some answers. However, if I cannot, or if I have answered them inadequately, I shall write to her. She asked in particular about the application of local legislationthe North Yorkshire County Council Act 1991to the city of York after reorganisation. This matter will be addressed before the reorganisation datebefore Article 5 comes into effectand suitable provision will be made if that is considered necessary.
The noble Baroness also asked about the activities preliminary to the exercise of function. The order simply removes from authorities which are to be abolished any duties which require them to prepare budgets or plans for the years after they are abolished and passes those duties to the successor authorities. Not to make the
The noble Baroness asked me about the eligibility criteria for authorities with unchanged functions which were too tight in two respects. With regard to the period over which authorities may bid for supplementary credit approvals, I can confirm that we are prepared to consider extending the period for an additional year to take in the year after the reorganisation date. She also commented about the range of expenditure that was eligible. Arrangements provide for authorities to submit a case where there are other expenditures that fall outside the main eligibility criteria. We shall consider any such bids very carefully. If they are genuinely a consequence of reorganisation they will be sympathetically considered.
The noble Baroness also asked whether and when we would consult on the new approach, as outlined by my right honourable friend last week. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will issue new guidance drawing attention to district specific issues. He proposes to consult local government and the Opposition about this in April or May.
We have had a good debate. I hope that we have entered into the spirit of the debate. I believe that our proposals for North Yorkshire and Humberside will produce more responsive and accountable local government in these areas. They will restore the independence of two justifiably proud cities and restore to Lincolnshire and Yorkshire parts of those counties which many, including many noble Lords who have spoken today, would argue should never have been removed. We believe that the proposals will secure for each area a structure of local government which is not only more accountable and reflects the identity of local people but will also provide efficient and cost-effective services to the communities.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, before the Minister sits down perhaps I may say that I am grateful to him for answering my question about consultation on the new guidance. Will he consider whether consulting during Aprilthe period when local authorities will be consumed with other activitiesis necessarily the most appropriate time?
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