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Lord Harris of Haringey: Best value is important for public authorities. I should like to see us moving towards a situation in which public authorities are required to fulfil the principles of best value. I suspect that that may be the "back door" effect of the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, but probably not what she intended.

Having said that, the intention behind the amendment raises some important issues. It is quite clear that increasingly, local government will be working in partnership with other bodies. Partnership structures will be set up to deliver services or to make things happen. I can envisage all kinds of anomalies as to whether the principles of best value have to operate under those various sets of circumstances. Reference has been made to the health provision and, increasingly, health trusts are working jointly with local social services departments to provide services. Sometimes these are

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notionally under the aegis of the health trust, sometimes that of the local authority. That practice is increasing. It is often a matter of convenience as to which is the lead authority. I would hate the situation to arise in which the structures going through the best value process would determine which became the lead authority, rather than what made sense for other, practical reasons in the area.

There are, however, also community safety partnerships in relation to the tackling of crime and disorder. There are regeneration partnerships. Again, in all of these there needs to be clarity about the extent to which best value applies to them. This amendment does not quite achieve that, but we need to have better information on the issue. Otherwise, there will be all kinds of problems on the ground within local government.

Lord Whitty: This debate has raised some interesting points about the delivery on the ground. Although it may not surprise you that I am not minded to accept the amendment, it does seem to address a very important issue. This Bill is about best value in local government within the local government finance system. It does not deal with public bodies which are outside the local government finance system. The scope is clearly defined in Clause 1, as we have indicated already. It can be extended by Clause 2, but it has to be consistent with the approach in relation to local government finance. We are, of course, intent that best value should apply in other parts of the public sector. We made it clear that we would want the principles of best value to be applied to those bodies which work alongside, or in partnership with, best value local authorities.

We are making significant progress in other contexts in realising that aim. For example, as indicated earlier, the principles of best value have been endorsed and applied by the Housing Corporation in its work with registered social landlords. Your Lordships may also be aware of the approach set out in Better Quality Services, which deals with central government departments and agencies which work together in the National Health Service--again, best value being delivered within the financial regime that operates there. As regards the particular example raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in relation to the Probation Service, the Home Office is working on how best value would operate within that service. It will be consulting on whether new legislation will be needed in respect of all or some of those requirements. However, the issue is actively under consideration within the Home Office.

More generally, I have already referred to the White Paper, Modern Local Government: In Touch with the People, which places best value at the heart of those improvements. This Bill, however, deals with how we achieve it through local government and the financial system which applies within local government, while trying to ensure that best value principles are more widely applied. A key purpose of the powers in Clause 15, to which we shall turn later, is to facilitate the operation of partnerships between individual local authorities and between local authorities and other public sector bodies and beyond. Hence, there are proposals to pool budgets and other areas on which we

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are consulting. There may be other areas, of course, which would be open to partnership where we could therefore apply the principles of best value in the different financial contexts in which the various public sector bodies operate.

However, I repeat that the Bill deals with the local authority financial regime. That may not be the best part for other areas--for example, the bodies with which local government operates in partnership, where there are different systems of public accountability, different systems of audit and different systems of review. We want to learn from the local government experience and from other best value initiatives that are taking place in other parts of the public sector. We would want to keep those under review and to try to make them as compatible as possible. However, to stipulate in the present Bill that parts of the public sector which are covered by financial regimes under different legislation would be difficult, if not impossible.

We understand the motivation behind Amendment No. 13 and we are taking steps with other parts of the public sector, particularly those which are most likely to form partnerships with local authorities. It will be their financial regimes through which the best value can be achieved. We hope that they will be as compatible as possible but this provision deals solely with the local authority financial structure.

With those assurances that we are moving on other fronts and that we are moving to facilitate partnerships within the Bill, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able not to pursue her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: I thank the Minister for that reply, though I have to say that from listening to him--I shall read what he has said--he has rather more restated the problem than given the solution. I accept that it may not be possible to deal with the solution within the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, said, it is very important that we have clarity. It had not occurred to me that there might be a fight to concede the leadership on a project but one sees that that situation might come about. That would not be to anyone's best advantage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 14:

Page 3, line 11, leave out paragraph (b)

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 14, I wish to speak also to Amendments No. 15 and 16. It is all too easy to say that consultation is a good thing. These three amendments deal with the issue of consultation. As the Bill is drafted, I have one or two small problems.

The first is that there is an element of what I can only describe as class distinction in the Bill. We are here dealing with the duty to consult that is being imposed on best value authorities. A little further down the page is the class distinction:

    "the Secretary of State shall consult such persons as he thinks fit".

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    I shall be accused of inconsistency because I and other noble Lords have tabled amendments to alter that situation. However, by the way the Bill is drafted, two classes of consultation are one more than is really necessary.

My amendments propose the removal of Clause 3(2)(b) and (d). That leaves on the face of the Bill,

    "representatives of persons liable to pay any tax, precept or levy to or in respect of the authority", and indeed,

    "representatives of persons"-- which is a fairly wide phrase--

    "who use or are likely to use services provided by the authority".

When one considers the two categories that are left, I have had some difficulty in thinking of anyone else anyway. For a start I would suggest that paragraphs (b) and (d), which I have suggested be removed, are not essential to the sense of this clause. The second reason is that, paradoxically, the more classes of people who are defined, the more people are left out. By defining specific groups on the list many more specific groups will be left off. Therefore, I suggest that it would be better to keep the categories of people involved down to the smallest possible number.

Having said that, my final amendment of the three, Amendment No. 16, deals with the one essential group of people who are intimately involved both with the delivery of best value and its impact and all too often in the way in which they work and run their lives. The people who are most directly concerned, apart from those who use the service, are the people who provide it. I have tabled an amendment to suggest that they should be consulted.

This is a fairly straightforward and simple issue, but quite an important one. Although some might say that I am arguing against the concept of full consultation, I argue very seriously that that is not so. I want proper consultation, but consultation which is achievable and meaningful and not with the net spread so widely that people can feel left out if they are not specifically caught. I believe that is the way the Bill is heading. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: I have two amendments in this group; Amendments No. 17 and 18. First, I should like to comment on the amendments to which the noble Lord has just spoken. Tact requires that I first deal with Amendment No. 16 with which I agree; to include employees in the group of consultees. I accept that the best value duty is a duty to the public, and that employees will help to fulfil that duty. However staff have a great deal to contribute to the operation of a service. They are often at the sharp end, and it is not necessarily only the senior staff who have a great deal to say. Any authority which fails not only to listen to what its employees have to say but fails to ask them to make their views known is failing in a serious regard.

Despite what the noble Lord said about extending consultation, the first two amendments rather surprise me. The amendment requiring that business rate payers

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are not consulted reminds us that at present the only statutory consultation required for council tax is with business rate payers.

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