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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: So far I have not intruded into the discussions on this Bill, although my correspondence has persuaded me that perhaps I ought to take an interest in it from now on. I rise to support the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. Having a local authority background I know how these impositions on local authorities pile up, one by one. It is essential that when duties of the sort contained in this Bill are put on local authorities, they are fully financed by central government. I say that because this is something which applies to the whole of the nation.
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One of the problems with civil defence was that it was badly funded. It was so badly funded that people did not take it seriously. They thought that civil defence planning was a joke because the Government refused to finance a proper civil defence system throughout the country. Only £19 million a year was spent on it. I believe that circumstances have changed and that both the public and local authorities need to take planning for emergencies seriously. However, they will not do so unless they are properly funded. That is why I believe it is essential for the Government to take this amendment on board.
We all know and we all recognise that local authorities up and down the country are hard-pressed for cash. If they are not properly funded, and if they do the job properly, then the hard-pressed council tax payer will have to pay more rates. I would not have thought that that is what the Government would want at this point in time. So, from the point of view of their electoral well-being, the government party should take the amendment and local emergencies seriously and ensure that local government can carry out the tasks being assigned to it under the Bill.
Lord Jopling: I strongly support my noble friend's amendment. I also endorse and support what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said. Far too often governments of all colours are happy to pass legislation, in either your Lordships' House or the other place, regardless of the implications of the costs to local authorities, in particular. The Government's refusal so far to accede to, or even to propose, what my noble friend has proposed is a reflection of the complacency to which I referred at some length earlier.
I know that the Minister cannot promise, unless his brief allows him to do so, that the Government will do what my noble friend asks them to do, but I hope that he will take the matter away and seriously contemplate the fact that, by not specifying that the costs of these measures will be provided through additional grant, people will doubt that the Government take this issue seriously. If he is not able to do so, I hope that my noble friend will seriously consider bringing back an amendment on Report with which to test the opinion of the House. I should be very surprised if the overall view of noble Lords was not that this matter is so urgent that the extra costs ought to be fully met.
The Earl of Onslow: Eighty-five million years ago when I was a National Service subaltern I was told that time spent on reconnaissance was seldom wasted. That applies surely to planning. It is actually cheaper for a community to have proper planning carried out at local authority level. If something happensGod forbidand the plans are not properly prepared, the results will be more expensive, and more discombobulation will occur. It will generally be a bad thing.
If we are going to go down the route of asking local authorities to prepare the planning, for heaven's sake give them the tools to do the job properlyand that, I am afraid, means paying for it. A disaster in Somerset or Surrey affects people in Berkshire or Buckinghamshire; it becomes a national as well as a local issue and therefore it should be paid for nationally, and properly paid for.
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Lord Bassam of Brighton: Amendment No. 47A would require the Government to meet all local authority costs in implementing the Bill. Obviously I am aware that funding is an issue for local responders. In another incarnation I had some responsibility for putting together an estimate of the new burdens visited on local government in the emergency planning field during the late 1980s and the early 1990s, and I am well aware of planning officers' views on the subject from that time.
We believe not only that local authorities should be funded appropriately for civil protection work, but that it is most important. It is for that reason that the Cabinet Office worked very closely with the Local Government Association in the run up to SR 2004 to ensure that it received the appropriate level of funding as part of that package. Noble Lords will have heard me say beforeand I am quite happy to repeat it todaythat, as a result, the Government doubled their contribution to the cost of local authority civil protection activities to £40 million per year, running from 2005 through to 2008.
This was widely welcomed by local government and was seen as an excellent result which will significantly enhance its capacity to deal with the effects of a wide range of emergencies, whether caused by natural disasters, accidents or terrorism. The Emergency Planning Society said of the outcome that it was excellent news for the practitioner, which is a resounding thumbs-up for the Government's commitment in terms of money to this field of activity.
The amendment would require the Government to make available funds to cover a local authority's start-up costs in implementing the requirements of the Bill. But the Bill is, by and large, organisational and in large part simply codifies existing best practice. So we do not anticipate that local authorities will face significant start-up costs of the kind implied by the amendment.
We accept that it will take local authorities time and effort to digest and implement some of the requirements of the legislation in year one. However, these burdens were taken into account by the Government in the cost assessment that we developed as part of the SR 2004 cost assessment process. Start-up costs were smoothed across the provision made for the three years of the review periodthat is, from 2005 through to 2008. That approach was supported and endorsed by the Local Government Association.
The amendment also suggests that the Audit Commission should be required to measure local authority expenditure on the Act in its first year of implementation and that the Government should be required to reimburse this money. There are already public expenditure processes in place to establish appropriate funding levels across government. The spending review cycle exists to establish funding requirements for subsequent years. Spending levels in the early years of the new Act will form part of the evidence base for the SR 2006 exercise.
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I can make this commitment because it is a sensible one: if new burdens emerge during the spending review period they can be met from the £100 million counter-terrorism pool that the Government have created. We have made significant new investment in local authority resilience capacity and local authorities have warmly welcomed that. The challenge now is for central government and local authorities to work together to deliver improved civil protection arrangements across the country.
The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said that the LGA wants £90 million. Simply put, I do not think that that is true. I have no evidence in front of me to suggest that it is. We have doubled our contributionand that doubling was in agreement with the Local Government Association, which strongly supports the new level that has been established.
I make one final point which goes to some of the politics behind the funding issue. The level of the civil defence grant since this Government have been in officefrom 1997 through to the present timehas risen by something in the region of 180 per cent. To put that in context, in the years running from 1990 to 1997, the civil defence grant fell by 42 per cent. Objectively, I ask noble Lords to consider who has made the greater commitment towards the civil defence grantmy government or the government that was in place before we came into power? I believe that we have done an excellent job.
The Earl of Onslow: Am I to understand from that long and rather complicated answer that the Government have given them the money to do it? If so, why cannot that be placed straight on the face of the Bill? Through the verbiage and the comparison between this Government and the previous one and so on, I understood the Minister to be saying, "Yes, we have provided the money". Is that the case?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: A detailed exercise was carried out with the LGA in identifying new burdens. We have put £40 million in place by way of grants to local authorities. That process had the LGA's agreement and endorsement. I read out the endorsement from the Emergency Planning Society.
The money that we have put in place has been broadly welcomed by local government. I can do and say no more than that. I think that we are making adequate provision; I have already said that if there are problems with that, of course they can be identified as new burdens in the usual cost round process, and that can be reflected in grant settlements in later years.
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