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Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 293:

Page 222, line 18, leave out (“1st February") and insert (“15th December").

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The noble Lord said: in moving Amendment No. 293 I shall refer also to the other amendments in this group. I shall not be moving Amendments Nos. 296 and 297. Clearly, there has been an error in the drafting or tabling of those amendments. One of them, at least, should refer to a different place in the schedule. I apologise for that error, wherever it arose.

Amendment No. 293 enables us to debate what we were trying to get at with this group of amendments had we managed to get the dates right. The budget process is much more than mechanical. It is a full discussion and debate about priorities and political priorities. As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, stated, it will be a process of continuous dialogue, discussion and negotiation.

The purpose of the amendments is to move that process forward as far as possible. I say that bearing in mind the current practice--which makes life extremely difficult--of the Government announcing the revenue settlement at the beginning of December. We propose that the mayor should present his or her draft budget by 15th December and that there should be a longer period for consultation and discussion, which is achievable.

I recognise that the GLA budget will be much larger than that of any other London borough. However, it is a process which we have followed in my authority for a number of years. We now have a meaningful debate with interested organisations and, indeed, individuals, on budget priorities and proposals, whether for growth or savings and cuts.

I suggest that the mayor should be required to adopt a similar process; to be able to have the open and formal debate, discussion and consultation rather earlier and over a longer period. That is the intention of the amendments, starting with the presentation of the draft budget in the middle of December. I wish it could be earlier than that date and that the period did not include Christmas and the New Year. Unfortunately, the Government's timetable on the RSG settlement makes that impossible.

If that process is to be real and meaningful, and there is to be a useful dialogue in terms of priorities as reflected in the budget, we shall need the longer timetable that we are suggesting. I recognise that the Government cannot accept these amendments tonight, but I hope that they will accept the intention and perhaps consider further how to make this proposal more meaningful. I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, in speaking to this group of amendments I shall make specific reference to Government Amendment No. 303. That amendment would remove the Secretary of State's power to change the last day of February date before which the mayor must present his or her final draft budget, and the assembly must approve it.

In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, tabled amendments seeking to change the statutory dates in the budget-setting process from February to November. We

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cannot agree that the deadlines for either the draft or the actual budget should be brought forward, and we cannot accept these amendments. The local government finance settlement is usually announced in late November or early December. The mayor is required to consult the assembly before finalising his draft budget, and we expect much of the work in drafting the budget to be done long in advance of the deadlines set out in Schedule 5.

However, bringing forward the date by when the mayor would have to present his draft consolidated budget to December would leave almost no time for the mayor to consider provisional grant figures, or to consult the assembly before preparing his or her draft budget.

Bringing forward the deadline by when the mayor must present his final draft budget would require the mayor to present a final draft budget before the grant allocation is finalised, and would allow the assembly no more time to consider the draft budget than the Bill currently allows.

Requiring the assembly to approve the draft budget before 15th January is unrealistic. I recall that during our debate on this issue in Committee, noble Lords expressed their concern that the boroughs should know the amount of the GLA precept at an early enough time to be able to influence their own budget decisions, should they decide to do so.

We all recognise, of course, that the GLA and the boroughs will need to be in regular dialogue on their respective priorities. The GLA, like all major precepting authorities, will surely seek to set its budget as early as possible, but a deadline of 15th January is wholly unrealistic. A situation could arise where the pressure of time, in unusual circumstances, could mean the authority setting its budget before it knew its allocation.

The GLA, like all major precepting authorities, must issue its precepts by 1st March. If billing authorities have to recalculate their amounts of tax because the GLA, or any other major precepting authority, issues its precept late, it is the precepting authority--here the GLA--that would have to pay the rebilling costs.

The Government have noted the concerns expressed by noble Lords during the Committee stage about the Secretary of State's power to change the last day of February date by which the GLA's budget must be finalised. Amendment No. 303 removes that power.

We cannot accept Amendment No. 304. A power to move the date only forward would leave the Secretary of State unable to act if, in remarkably unusual circumstances, the local government finance settlement was late.

Schedule 5 sets out a robust budget-setting process for the GLA, with deadlines that take full account of the local government finance settlement, the roles of the mayor and assembly, and the GLA's duties as a major precepting authority. I seek support for Amendment No. 303, and ask noble Lords to withdraw their amendments. In seeking to do that, we bring to your Lordships' House our experience. I bring

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mine as a member of a precepting authority and I see the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, nodding his head. He has distinguished, but similar experience.

Lord Tope : My Lords, I have possibly nearly as long experience of being on the receiving end of precepting authorities, so perhaps we approach these matters from slightly different points of view.

I did not expect to convince the Government. I do not accept that if the RSG settlement comes at the end of November, as it generally does, it is impossible to produce a draft budget for 15th December. I know from experience of a small budget--the complexities are the same--that it is possible. It involves a considerable amount of work and contingency planning would start long before the end of November. However, I shall not pursue this matter and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 294 and 295:

Page 222, line 28, leave out (“a majority of the Assembly members voting") and insert (“the Assembly").
Page 222, line 42, leave out (“a majority of the Assembly members voting") and insert (“the Assembly").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 296 and 297 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 298:

Page 223, line 43, leave out (“a majority of the Assembly members voting") and insert (“the Assembly").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 299 to 302 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 303:

Page 224, line 24, leave out (“, or the last day of February,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 304:

Page 224, line 25, leave out (“other") and insert (“earlier").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, perhaps I can speak to Amendment No. 304 at this time as I do not believe my noble friend spoke to it earlier. It seeks to change or delete one of the dates which may be changed under this provision.

What is left is that the Secretary of State can substitute for any reference to 1st February a reference to any other day that he may set out in the regulations. Amendment No. 304 seeks to provide that he can only change it to an earlier day. This is in the spirit of the amendments to which my noble friend spoke about not making life more difficult for everybody by moving the process on. Perhaps the noble Baroness will comment on that. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I apologise if I was not as clear as I should have been. I intended to make clear that Amendment No. 304 could not be accepted. It would prevent the Secretary of State from being able to specify a date later than 1st February to take account of extremely

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unusual circumstances. We are talking of a situation where something arises which may prevent the process from being followed.

We can envisage few circumstances in which that may be necessary. However, we feel it is wise to include the provision.

Lord Tope: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, she has made reference to her very considerable county council experience. Perhaps she can tell me whether the Secretary of State now has similar powers in relation to county councils which may find themselves in similar unlikely but extreme circumstances? If the power does not exist currently in relation to county councils, why should the GLA be put in a privileged position in comparison with such county councils which will have exactly the same difficulties?

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