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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My understanding is that wide consultation is already taking place, not only with best value authority representatives but also with those concerned with good public procurement practice as providers and with all those with an interest in this matter. If there should be any further consultation, or any information about the exact timing of that, I shall write to the noble Baroness.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: I thank the Minister for that reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 agreed to.

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 [Transition from compulsory competitive tendering to best value]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 79:

Page 13, line 11, leave out ("2nd") and insert ("1st")

The noble Baroness said: This amendment seeks to propose a slightly different date for the end of compulsory competitive tendering. The Bill proposes that the provisions listed in Clause 20 shall cease to have

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effect on 2nd January of next year. This amendment proposes the date of 1st January of next year. My query concerns the number of authorities which will have let a contract under CCT before that date. I have already raised this matter. I have received a Written Answer informing me that the information is not centrally recorded. I asked about a number of dates. It seems odd that, irrespective of the arrangements for recording the information, the Government have not inquired--or have implied that they have not inquired--how many authorities would be affected by this measure before putting the date of 2nd January into the Bill. I am sure the Minister will tell us that the Government have a fair amount of information on this matter because I am sure they will want to assess the effect that their proposals will have.

After the Written Answer was published I was contacted by an assiduous member of the public who reads Hansard who informed me that this information has been recorded by the Local Government Management Board and is held by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Perhaps the Minister can inform the Committee of the precise position here. I take the point that was made at the helpful private meeting with the Minister; namely, that there has to be a cut-off at some point. Furthermore, authorities need to know about this matter in advance so that they can make preparations for whichever of the regimes is to apply. That is entirely sensible. However, I query whether we have the correct date in this regard. I am told that the 1997 class of unitary authorities is particularly affected by this measure, as are the white collar contracts let under the CCT regime which will be coming up for renewal.

The best value regime is to start 12 months from the date the Bill is passed, or earlier by order. The memorandum from the department indicates that best value is expected to be introduced on 1st April 2000 and that there will be guidance as to the interim period. As is well known, we want to see the back of CCT, but we are concerned about what could perhaps be the messy introduction of its successor. I also take the opportunity therefore to ask whether those authorities which will continue to exercise functions via a contract let under CCT will automatically be regarded as having achieved best value until that contract expires.

There are two questions implicit in the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: While the amendment represents a change of only one day, we carefully chose the day to take account of the existing CCT timetables, in particular for the initial implementation of professional white collar services in England.

We considered that it was important to ensure that authorities receive a clear message that they must comply with the existing legislation and not anticipate the introduction of best value by abandoning at a late stage those tender exercises which had already started. In order to comply with the implementation dates for white collar services up to 1st January 2000 authorities will have commenced the tendering process well before Royal Assent of the Bill might be expected. It normally

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takes about 12 months to prepare for and to complete a tendering exercise and to commence the contract. That principle also applies to existing CCT contracts which become due for reletting in the period.

I regret that I am unable to give the noble Baroness the information that she seeks. We will investigate the availability of statistics from the Local Government Management Board but we are not normally directly "plugged into" that information. With regard to choosing the date, we are anxious to provide as much time as possible to make sensible preparations for best value without the distraction of CCT for those authorities with contracts that will run after that date. January 2nd immediately follows the last planned implementation date for white collar professional services, which is 1st January 2000. The choice of 2nd January will therefore ensure that those authorities reorganised in April 1997--principally the unitary authorities--will be able to go ahead with the process that has already started in putting, for example, personnel and finance services out to competition. They will therefore not waste the period of preparation that is already approximately five months under way and will be considerably further down the line by the time of Royal Assent. Those authorities will then be able to achieve one round of CCT on the financial and personnel services.

We have, however, carefully avoided exposing any information technology services to CCT on 1st January 2000 because of the obvious problems associated with the year 2000 bug. If we were to repeal CCT on 1st January that could lead with regard to the other white collar services to the abandonment of a tendering exercise at a late stage in the process. I hope that that at least goes some way to explain the choice of 2nd January and to explain that it would be disruptive for those authorities to bring forward that date. If there is any more information I can provide to the noble Baroness about the number of contracts involved, I will of course do so. However, we do not have it immediately to hand in the department.

Baroness Hamwee: The Minister does not promote his case as well as he might. What he has said about white collar services and so on is entirely understandable. I repeat that I would have expected that careful inquiry would have been made as to whether a slightly different choice of date would have had a more or less disruptive effect on best value authorities. He said that as much time as possible needs to be given to switch regime, which I entirely understand. However, I do not believe that my proposal to reduce by one day at a period when most of the country is expected still to be recovering from the night before the night before will affect this very much.

On the back of this, I asked a question about authorities which are continuing to function via a contract let under CCT. Will that automatically achieve best value, because they will have had no option but to operate under that contract, which will go on into the period when the best value duty has started? I have in mind the occasional problems which authorities have with contractors--they may be just the same under the

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best value regime--and with enforcing the contracts. Will there be any different approach to authorities in judging what they are doing for the purposes of best value if they are continuing to operate in regard to some functions under old contracts? Is there any difference between their operation using contracts under the different regimes?

Lord Whitty: I am not entirely sure that there is a hard and fast answer to that. Local authorities will be bound by contracts which they have already undertaken and there will be no power under the best value regime to breach those contracts, except in so far as the contracts themselves have penalties or break points. If it were seen that a CCT-style contract were not delivering best value, that could be dealt with only at the end of that process in normal circumstances. There may be some modifications to that in particular cases, but in general a contract signed would have to be completed in that form, and there are no additional powers to break that contract.

Baroness Hamwee: I thank the Minister for that reply. It is important for authorities to be assured that they are not going to be tripped up because the rules have changed part way through the term of the contract. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 agreed to.

Clause 22 [Accounts]:

[Amendment No. 80 not moved.]

Clause 22 agreed to.

Clause 23 agreed to.

Clause 24 [Co-ordination of inspections, &c.]:

On Question, Whether Clause 24 shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness Hamwee: What is intended by Clause 24(3)? Clause 24(1) starts by mentioning,

    "a person or body to whom this section applies", that person or body having regard to certain guidance. Clause 24(2) states that "this section" applies to a number of inspectorates. This is the clause which was so usefully inserted by the Government in another place. Clause 24(3) states that the order will,

    "apply to a person or body specified in the order". I can well see that different orders may be made in connection with perhaps fire, social security administration or schools inspectorates, but I cannot see what is added by Clause 24(3). Being rather tedious, because I could not understand it, I thought I should not let the opportunity pass without asking for an explanation.

5 p.m.

Lord Whitty: There is a fairly simple explanation, in that we are listing in Clause 2 the inspectorates that already exist. It is possible that future legislation might create other inspectorates in particular areas and we would need powers for the Secretary of State to specify

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those additional inspectorates. We need that flexibility, which is why the subsection is included. It is no more complicated than that.

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