Unopposed Bill Committee Minutes of Evidence

Sections 400-419

London Local Authorities Bill [HL]

Tuesday 18 February 2003

400. LORD ELTON: What are the grounds?

(Mrs McGregor) There are various functions of the authority which are taken into account in the overall assessment of the authorities assessment. This is undertaken by the Audit Commission on behalf of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State can accept the recommendations of the Audit Commission, or not; but what he cannot do is adjust the recommendations of the Audit Commission in deciding what flexibility an authority has.

401. LORD TORDOFF: How do you answer Mr Lewis's points that this ranking may be totally irrelevant to the level of dog fouling or litter?

(Mr Kerrigan) Basically our policy position is that the level of fines issued on a yearly basis are very small. We collect money from 430 authorities who return the money to the Secretary of State at present. Our earnings on an annual basis are approximately from 30 authorities who issue fines on dog fouling offences. We are concerned that with the London Local Authority Bill the local authority have too much freedom to spend the money i.e. on amenities and areas; whereas we are looking at spending it on dog fouling functions. All local authorities say they have to spend their money on litter collection and dog fouling functions. Then they look to see the high performing authorities. At the moment the way we assess high performing authorities is using the Comprehensive Performance Assessment. When the Secretary of State comes to make regulations he will have an opportunity to consult on extending that to include the possibility of the new best value performance indicator, which will subsequently look at how good a local authority is at its litter and dog fouling functions. Therefore the high performing authorities will be those who can prove year after year that they can achieve their statutory functions, rather than be able to receive the money from issued fines.

402. CHAIRMAN: I can understand the Government's objection to ring-fencing things, but this seems to be the reverse of it?

(Mr Kerrigan) As I explained, very few authorities issue any fines for litter and dog fouling, and it is creating quite a large problem. Approximately £450 million are a direct cost of cleaning litter for local authorities. Indirect costs are bigger year on year, and we must address this problem. One way of doing this is by removing the aspect of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 giving money to the Secretary of State. We are actually allowing local authorities to keep it for litter and dog fouling. We have actually acknowledged the significance of allowing the high performing authority to have more freedom of spending money. The definition of a high performing authority is yet to be agreed on. Mr Raynsford in his speech mentioned that the Comprehensive Performance Assessment would be used to allow local authorities to spend money on greater freedoms. However, when the Secretary of State writes the regulations she will have an opportunity to act on that.

403. LORD ELTON: I find it extraordinary that the ability to spend the proceeds of fines of dog fouling and litter is a carrot to local authorities to encourage them to become high performing local authorities. The rewards must be minimal. I am aware that this is becoming such an important issue for your Department.

(Mrs McGregor) Dog fouling and litter is a small amount of money but the encouragement needs to be there for authorities to use that money to take a more pro-active role.

404. Presumably the more freedom they have to spend it the more eager they will be to get it and that will encourage them?

(Mr Kerrigan) I agree with what you are saying. That is something happening in ten years' time. For example, at the moment there are only 430 authorities. Westminster itself serves about two-thirds of the total amount that we get on an annual basis. They are by far the most pro-active in their issuing of litter fines, but that is a unique case. The majority of authorities do not do this at all.

405. LORD ELTON: What are local authorities for if not to manage the amenities as they think best? Surely the State only intervenes when things go drastically wrong or they can be encouraged to do drastically better? I remain to be convinced that these restrictions will have that effect.

406. CHAIRMAN: To add to what has been said about the environment, "the amenity" does not cover the same ground and a little bit more. If the local authority want to spend money on a sports hall, for instance, rather than a patch of grass what is wrong with that? "The amenity" are the words that they want to use.

(Mrs McGregor) This package of measures in terms of dog fouling and litter is part of a wider measure of flexibility offered to high performance authorities. It is a small part but it is actually a much wider package.

407. LORD ELTON: Is it a significant part? Can you quantify it?

(Mrs McGregor) In terms of monetary value it is quite small. It is an area of the government's policy to give more freedom and flexibility to all authorities, and this is one small part of that.

408. LORD TORDOFF: With respect, not to all authorities, but high performing authorities?

(Mrs McGregor) Not necessarily. In this case, even those authorities in the lower end, the poorer authorities, are to be, firstly, allowed to keep the income from dog fouling and litter penalties; and, secondly, to be able to use it for purposes in relation to the local environment. It is only good authorities, according to the CPA, that should be allowed to spend the money.

409. CHAIRMAN: Can I come back to the parking - which is vast amounts of money we are talking about there. If we are going to allow the high performing authorities the discretion over the extra benefits on parking, that is a very, very considerable carrot for them to be a high performing authority. I would not have thought that this one made much difference. Does anybody else have anything to add?

(Mr Jones) I am just wondering what the difference is in character of London local authorities compared with the other local authorities, my Lords. It is open to Parliament, if they choose, to amend clause 116 if they do not consider that satisfactory. There are already means under the scrutiny of the Local Government Bill to make changes should they not consider that clause appropriate. I am not aware, at least we have not yet so far been made aware, of any significant differences between the London Local Authorities and the other local authorities within England and Wales which justify a difference on this issue.

410. LORD TORDOFF: I think we have now got to the heart of this matter.

411. MR SAUNDERS: There is one point I would like to clear up. Perhaps I can ask Mr Lewis a question. The clause, that is to say Clause 27(1) as amended, seems to me, unless I am reading it wrongly, to cut out the offences relating to litter and dog fouling and it just puts in place of them offences under Clause 26. It seems to me that a lot of this discussion has been a bit by the way because the clause in the Bill is not going to deal with dog fouling and littering whereas 116 of the Local Government Bill is, so the two could be having different regimes for different situations.

412. MR LEWIS: I think we need to look at ----

413. MR SAUNDERS: Have you put it in somewhere else?

414. MR LEWIS: Clause 29A in the Additions Apart, page 16. That includes specific provision about dog fouling and littering and applies certain provisions of 27, 28 and 29.

415. MR SAUNDERS: Including the application in accordance with your formulation. So it is not that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and DEFRA object to the whole of these clauses, it is just really that they object to 29A.

416. MR LEWIS: That is what the reports say, absolutely right.

417. MR SAUNDERS: When it was first discussed it was all the clauses.

418. MR LEWIS: I see. Maybe it is for the representatives to say but I think the substance of their objection really is that if they had their way they would ask for 29A to be struck out from the Bill and would be happy for the clauses to proceed in relation to the other offences.

419. MR SAUNDERS: As far as Clause 26 is concerned that is all right.

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