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On the devolutionary powers in the Bill, when noble Lords read the White Paper they will see the scope of the devolution. Let me take, for example, the way the powers of the Secretary of State have been reduced. The Secretary of State will no longer be able to determine whether parishes are created; that will go to the district councils. Equally, government will no longer account for whole elections; that will now rest with a resolution of the council. The Secretary of State will not have any power to confirm by-laws. Devolution goes along with the emphasis we give in the first chapter of the White Paper to the voice of the local community and how to amplify it. We emphasise putting best value on the ability of the council to inform, involve and consult so that local people can test councils against best value and ensure that they have achieved it—as indeed many councils do to the best of their ability.

I turn to city powers. This is a work in progress and I hope noble Lords will agree that it is a sensible approach when we are talking about something as radical as looking at ways of giving more powers to cities to enable them to become more efficient—powers which they have told us they want in the enormous consultations we have held not only with cities but with towns around the country as well. Over the next few months we will be looking at the joint review of economic development when considering how to develop city plans. The Department for Transport, for example, is looking to devolve more transport powers, and we

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will come forward with more worked-out plans when we have had an opportunity to consider the Leach review, the Barker review and the Treasury report on sub-regional economies.

On the performance regime, I am glad that the noble Baroness opposite recognises what a radical step it is to strip out the 1,200 targets and reduce them to 200. They were set alongside the agreement on national outcomes, which will itself determine what all local authorities will work towards: the very top, high-level national priorities which will be determined in the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review. These are to be 200 indicators which will be agreed between local authorities and central government. But more important again, 35 local targets—different ones for each local region to address particular problems such as economic development or the delivery of public health systems—will be set to reflect local needs. That in turn will be reflected in the local area agreement—the delivery plan—which, for the first time, will be on a statutory footing. This will be underpinned by duties which will attach to the local strategic partnership, with partners not only in local authorities but in the whole range of public services. There is a list of those named partners. There will be more power to front-line councils, which is extremely important.

As to the processes for the direct election of leaders—one of the three options—I should say to the noble Baroness that we are not going to impose mayors. This is not mayors by the back door but an open and very transparent process which will depend a great deal on what the local authority itself wants to do. As to the powers of local councils, the review will look not only at the local call for action but also at training and a stronger role for them. I am glad that there is a welcome for the reformed code of conduct. I shall explain in writing how the community call for action will work. I disagree with the noble Baroness—I think it is a very clear diagram. Would that all my papers had such clear diagrams.

Let me address the issue of unitary status and how it will be managed. We have made it clear that this is an invitation to shire counties which they can trigger and determine themselves. The criteria are set out. We have said quite clearly that we will look at the broad consensus—at what determines it and who supports it. No district council or even groups of councils will have a veto on it. I am very glad that the noble Baroness welcomes the additional powers for parishes and the right that districts will have to create parishes.

I am grateful for the welcome. I look forward to working with the Opposition when we introduce the Bill to make it a good Bill and a good settlement for local government.

1.52 pm

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, local government is about the community of place; therefore local government is about local difference and diversity. If it is not, it is not local; and if it is not about local decision making, it is not local government. Otherwise it becomes a post box for central government decisions.

As previous speakers have said, much awaits the Lyons report because local government needs adequate

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and independent financial resources. It also needs structures that are effective, transparent, accountable and inspire confidence—and it is on structures that I wish to comment.

First, I shall make a couple of points on internal structures. I very much welcome the more permissive and pluralist tone of the White Paper. Like previous speakers, I, too, raise an eyebrow at elected mayors. There is nothing one could not do as a majority leader than one could in addition have done as mayor, except require the majority leader to persuade—and rightly so.

I also favour annual elections rather than all out because I believe in incremental change rather than swings-of-the-pendulum change. But, again, I welcome the fact that this is a matter for local authority decision- making and I welcome very much the tone of my noble friend’s White Paper today. I still slightly regret the imposition of Westminster style cabinet government on local government committee structures rather than the introduction into Westminster of more effective committee styles because I wanted all of our community to own change and not just the cabinet of the majority party.

Although much less apparent in this White Paper—again I am sure this is to do with the influence of my noble friend—there is still, none the less, the belief that politics has to be conducted in a very macho, male, adversarial style, that it is about conflict, leadership and cabinets, whereas many of us would prefer to talk about consensus, incremental change and committees. I do not think the change of language is necessarily wise. I also suspect that single-member wards—although, again, this is rightly a matter for local authorities—will probably see a reduction in the number of women councillors, currently standing at 30 per cent. I would regret that. But, as I say, the White Paper is about a more pluralistic and consensual tone and it is to be welcomed.

I also welcome the greater permissiveness and pluralism in terms of external structures. I do not think it is any secret that my own local authority, Norwich City Council, hopes very much to become a unitary authority. It was, for 600 years, a county borough until 1974 and would very much like to have the capacity to become, yet again, a unitary and competent authority. Why? Because of the three problems that most face authorities such as my own—the problems of economic regeneration, anti-social behaviour and so-called problem families, and increased longevity and its effect on social care. These problems cut across the current district and shire council—and very often the health service authority—divides. I want to see local authorities with the competence, in a holistic way, to deal with those issues.

At the moment in my city, four different local authorities end up providing different bits of local authority services. How on earth does the local citizen, voter and taxpayer know who does what, to what standard, at what cost and with what accountability? If they do not know and they cannot hold someone accountable, why should they bother to vote? If they do not bother to vote, we see the end of local government.



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Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend. She has enormous experience in local government and we shall listen carefully to what she has to say over the next few months.

We have addressed in the White Paper some of my noble friend’s anxieties about the cabinet system, not least through the strengthening of the overview and scrutiny committees which, for the first time, will have the powers—rather like a Select Committee—to call for papers and for people to appear before it. These could include the local PCT or a whole range of named partners. It will be a much wider range across local government. The other change will be that they will have a right to expect—and will have to expect—a response to their recommendations. It will not be sufficient for them simply to appear and then nothing happens. So that and the review we will conduct into the capacity of councillors to respond, as part of the democratic renewal, to the call for action—a combination of these plus other things which are in the White Paper—will address some of my noble friend’s anxieties that there is not a progressive structure for local councils to move through in order to, as it were, “train up” for local government.

My noble friend’s point about local government structures is a graphic example of why unitary authorities will bring together disparate functions and end wastefulness. We have said that the invitation to take part in restructuring is a short window, but there is no option for no change in areas where there are still two-tier authorities; they will all be required to improve their working practices. They will be invited also to take part in pathfinder projects where they will be able to test-out new ways of working. I look forward to seeing some of the positive innovation that is already going on made more universal in that way.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, the key words in the Statement which the Minister has kindly repeated are “strong direction nationally”. There are many words suggesting this is about devolution and decentralisation but I think that most of the proposals—although there are some useful relatively minor things—are about greater central direction; they are authoritarian, centralist and will lead to greater uniformity.

I am a member of a borough council in Lancashire. What got me laughing about the chart on page 37 is that it sets out what any good councillor has been doing almost every day of their life for the entire time they have been on a council—in my case for much of the past 35 years—and I am not quite clear why it needs legislation to tell councillors how to take up issues on behalf of their residents.

I shall focus on the emphasis in the White Paper on local area agreements which, from the perspective of a district councillor in the very large county of Lancashire, are neither local nor agreements; they are, very substantially, imposed from the centre. The negotiations to which the Secretary of State referred earlier in the House of Commons are very one sided. They are conducted on the basis of, “Do this; do it this way and you will get the money. Don’t do this; don’t do it this way and you won’t get the money”. A very large

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county such as Lancashire runs the risk that if you start including matters such as housing, leisure and so on in local area agreements, you end up with a uniform policy—a one size fits all—for a hugely diverse county, from the Fylde coast, to north Lancashire, to central Lancashire and Preston, to the east Lancashire towns and all the rural areas. There are many such counties where local area agreements are a means by which central government impose their policies, their targets and their wishes on local people.

I do not see much in the White Paper about the right to be different—not the right to be different because needs are different but because different places have similar problems, different solutions are surely relevant. If local people democratically want different solutions, surely that is what local democracy is about. Does the Minister agree that what is in the White Paper militates against that kind of local democratic diversity?

Baroness Andrews: No, my Lords, I do not agree at all. If the noble Lord reads the introduction to the White Paper and the prefaces of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, he will find the right to be different written through it in the most powerful and compelling way. I hope this is not a case of the Liberals believing that we have taken over part of their agenda and feeling sore about it. This is a serious attempt to make local area agreements work better. The noble Lord is right that they have not been working as well as they might, partly because they were imposed on top of a lot of other forms and functions. We have responded again to the Local Government Association; it has told us that this is one way to liberate the potential for every local area to live up to what its community wants.

The local area agreement will be a statutory document, but it will be agreed locally. It will be underpinned by the local strategic partnership, which, for the first time, will have duties attached to work with its partners across local government. It is significant that every Whitehall department has signed up to this White Paper, and that is reflected on the ground. This is a radical departure from how things have been done. There will be more pots of money in the local area agreements and more policies to be agreed.

The delivery of social care involves so many different agencies, not least the voluntary and community sector, but we will have a platform and a power to bring these people together. It will be done under the agreed outcomes at national level. We have to have those—they are our national priorities, whether it is higher achievement for young people or better public health. Every local area will have 35 targets which it negotiates itself. That is what will make the difference in the character of the policy and delivery, which will make the difference for local people. The voice of local people will be heard in a way it has not been heard before.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, although I offer only some personal

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thoughts. I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to devolve more decision-taking powers to local government and to offer more flexibility, freedom and local choice. It has hitherto been a curiosity, and a rather unsatisfactory one, that the Government’s enthusiasm for devolution to the regions has not apparently been matched by much enthusiasm for devolution to local government. I very much welcome the radical approach that my noble friend has described.

However, that still leaves the looming question: how are the RDAs and other regional satrapies to be made more democratically accountable? Can my noble friend cast any light on that? Can she say how the Government’s policies in that regard would relate to their encouragement to authorities to put themselves forward for unitary status, which is extremely welcome? It must be right that our important historic cities and boroughs should be able to be self-governing and take responsibility for the delivery of the full range of local services.

If we are to strengthen our democracy as a whole, which we surely need to do, must we not nurture democracy at local level? If enough people of real ability and ambition for their communities are to be attracted into local government and—who knows—thence into national politics, is it not necessary to provide scope for them to exercise responsibility commensurate with ability and ambition? Does that not apply to all elected members, not just the leaders of local authorities? Is not this fundamental issue more important than those about particular forms of local government, whether elected mayors, executive cabinets or local authority leaders on long leases?

Can my noble friend tell us whether the very welcome reduction in targets that she has announced means that the Treasury really means to let go, to allow elected local authorities to raise and spend money, free from the stultifying oversight of central government, instead being accountable to local people as citizens and electors and, indeed, possibly to local calls to action? Has the Treasury finally rid itself of the paranoia which possibly had some justification in the 1970s but has been absurd in an age of global financial markets—its fear that an increase in local government borrowing over and beyond what the Treasury decreed as appropriate would cause a rise in interest rates and crowd out private investments? Are we now to allow grown-ups in local authorities, as in private life, to judge what they can afford to borrow?

The phrase “earned autonomy”, which I was glad not to hear from the lips of my noble friend—I think I did not—has expressed too much a post-war view, of which we have learnt to be thoroughly sceptical, that the gentleman in Whitehall really does know best. Can my noble friend assure us that we have now moved beyond that patronising view towards a real respect for local people and local democracy?

Baroness Andrews: Yes, my Lords, I can. The tone of the White Paper is proof of the fact that we bow to the expert and experienced response that local authorities

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give when they know what their communities need. I think that we would all agree with that.

On my noble friend’s last but one point, we will have to leave the question of funding until we have the Lyons paper in front of us. I am sure that we will have many a serious debate on the implications of whatever Sir Michael comes forward with.

I very much welcome what my noble friend said about the power and scope of local councils and how we intend to build those up. We have to revitalise our democracy. The starting point is to make local councillors feel that there is nothing more honourable or effective than representing their wards and councils. The White Paper will have to do that in a big way.

On the RDAs, we will come forward with worked-out plans for the cities and the city regions. When the previous Secretary of State went around the country, as the present one has, talking to cities and councils, it was about the city and its region and the way in which economic development spills over well beyond the city’s boundaries. The strength of cities and rural areas shows that in addition to the cities’ capacity to grow and be creative and competitive, like our European competitors, the rural areas can benefit in their own special way.

High-level authorities such as oversight and scrutiny committees will be able to call on the RDAs to explain themselves if they so choose, making them more accountable. They are one of the named partners. There is a clear relationship here; we do not intend to diminish the power or capacity of the RDAs. We expect them to work closely and in harmony with cities and city regions when we come forward with those proposals.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the Liberal Democrats are very happy for the Government to take up our ideas, but we want to see them implemented well. That is shown by the number of Liberal Democrat Members on our Benches today, compared with those of other parties.

I have two questions. Can the Minister tell us what evidence—I stress “evidence”, as distinct from a propensity for presidential style—the Government have that imposing strong leadership models will commend itself to communities, given the very lukewarm response to the proposition put before us, as my noble friend said? Secondly, when will we get legislation dealing with the standards board and codes of conduct? This issue, quite apart from all the others raised, deserves to have a Bill taken through quickly. If Back-Benchers are to be champions of their communities—it is a sine qua non for every councillor to be a champion of his or her community—they must be able to be involved in planning and licensing matters in a way which is impossible now. In the days when I chaired a London borough planning committee, I do not know how I could have done the job subject to the restrictions which colleagues now face. Will the cost and grief to taxpayers which the standards board is causing come to an end quickly?



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Baroness Andrews: My Lords, we are not imposing strong leadership; we are suggesting that there are three models which local authorities can adopt, each of which will give leaders more visibility, accountability and power. However, there is a choice, and there will be a lot to be decided by the local authority.

The noble Baroness asked about evidence. The prime evidence is the confusion which people feel about who is responsible for what. It is extremely difficult to find out what the council does, let alone what the divisions of responsibilities within the councils really mean. I have before me a customer survey on perceptions of local government in England, which shows, for example, that 70 per cent people do not believe that they can influence local decision-making, and that there is a great deal of genuine confusion about everything that local government does and who does it. I would be very happy to send that to the noble Baroness. Paragraph 3.16 of the White Paper refers to another survey which states that the role of the leader was perceived to have become stronger where there was an elected mayor. It showed too that, under the new arrangements, people felt that there had been a better articulation of policy and, therefore, greater satisfaction. I shall send her that information.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I am required by procedure to adjourn the House for the lunch-break business. I beg to move that consideration on Report of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill be now adjourned and shall not resume before 3.12 pm. The lunch-break business is not time-limited—I am always nervous when I say that. I know that there are quite a few speakers, but it is assumed that we will try to keep within an hour, out of fairness to the business which resumes thereafter. In moving that Report be adjourned, I give that gentle word of persuasion to the House.


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