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We are greatly strengthening powers of scrutiny so that they extend beyond the council. For the first time, overview and scrutiny committees will have the power to require information from certain key local powers, which will already have an enhanced role in the making of community strategies and local area
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The third area of change will increase the autonomy of local authorities, for example by transferring the responsibility for decisions on the electoral cycle of a local authority from the Secretary of State to local government. We are taking the Secretary of State out of the equation in relation to community governance and by-laws. We are increasing local ownership of conduct issues by devolving most decision-making on conduct to local authorities. Crucially, we are also devolving powers to the National Assembly for Wales to enable Wales to legislate for itself on a range of local government matters covered in the Bill.
The conversations that we have had with local government have made it clear to us that they and their partners spend too much time addressing the requirements of central government rather than those of citizens and communities. That is why we are seeking through the Bill to increase the ability of local authorities to determine and focus their own local priorities. The best-value regime will be streamlined and will sit alongside a completely revised framework for monitoring and reporting on local authorities performance. The number of national indicators will be reduced from 1,200 to a robust set of 200 indicators that will focus on outcomes and will make sense as local priorities. That will be complemented by a new comprehensive area assessment system that will focus less on upwards reporting and more on identifying risks to service delivery in an area and on citizens experiences. Other changes will bring local authorities into a new and more effective connection with other local partners that are responsible for the well-being of the community. That partnership has already been enhanced by the local area agreements in every local authority, but the local area agreements have been too limited to reach their potential to become the delivery plan for the whole sustainable community strategy, which is the sum of the needs and aspirations of the whole community.
The Bill makes this possible by expanding and strengthening the role in two ways: first by placing them on a statutory basis and secondly by extending their coverage and partnership, so that they become the sole delivery agreement for the issues which local authorities wish to tackle on their own or in partnership with others; such as community safety, childhood obesity or economic inactivity.
I shall explain how this process will work in practice. Each responsible local authority, its partners and the relevant government office will identify the core challenges facing each local area. Against these priorities will be set around 35 local improvement targets, although in some areas there may be fewer. These will be designated targets and will be set against the 200 or so national indicators. But the local authority and its partners will also be free to set other local targets, should they wish to do so.
Most significantly, we are placing a statutory duty on key public agencies to co-operate. This will give local authorities the levers that they need to bring together all the key partners in an area to agree the
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In another innovative step, we are requiring local authorities and primary care trusts to work together to produce a strategic assessment of the health and social care needs of their local population. This will also feed into the sustainable community strategy and, in turn, the priorities agreed in the local area agreement. We are also providing the opportunity for greater flexibility and efficiencies in the delivery of waste servicesboth collection and disposalthrough powers to allow the voluntary establishment of the statutory joint waste authorities.
We want to improve the relationship between local government and the local community by amplifying the voice of the local community and giving more scope for local councillors to champion their interests. We are also placing a statutory duty on English best-value authorities to inform, consult or involve representatives of local peoplefor example, through newsletters, posters and neighbourhood forums. Of course, many best-value authorities already do a great deal to involve and consult citizens and communities, but we want to ensure that all people, irrespective of where they live, work or play, have opportunities for involvement. We are adopting a similar approach with regard to the health services by strengthening the existing requirements on NHS organisations to consult patients and the public in the planning and development of health services.
Local people will also have a louder voice in another way. We are introducing the Community Call for Action, through which a councillor will be able to refer an issue to an overview and scrutiny committee and require a response.
That brings me to the final element of the Bill that I want to discuss. The fact that it is at the end of the Bill and confined to a single partPart 14does not diminish its importance. We can see by the number of speakers who have an interest in health that this is held up in your Lordships House as well.
For several years, we have been engaged in trying to ensure that patients and the wider public are properly involved in their local health services. Patients forums, which we debated in this House in 2002, moved patient and public involvement on, raising its profile and producing many success stories. I pay tribute here and now to the hard work, expertise and enthusiasm of patients forums throughout the country. As I shall make clear, we feel that it is essential that the energy and expertise of the forums, far from being lost, must be captured within the new local involvement networks. I shall explain the key features set out in A Stronger Local Voice, published in July 2006, which was based on a nine-month review of patient and public involvement.
The changes that we propose are, first, to make patient involvement genuinely local. It will no longer be confined, as patients forums were, to single institutions
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Why do we believe that these changes are necessary? First, without wishing to diminish the work of patients forums in any way, there have been significant new configurations in the health and social care system, not least the move towards greater coterminosity between PCTs and local authorities, and greater joint commissioning across health and social care. But more importantly, the experience of many patients is that they cross services as they require care; for example, a stroke patient may experience services that range from care in an acute hospital, a specialist stroke unit, a rehabilitation unit and then they may need social care. Therefore, if local people are to have a key voice, it makes sense that they are able to speak up on all these stages and issues. LINks will be able, by virtue of their role and larger membership, to consider the whole patient journey.
So LINks will do the following things. Their role will be to collect the voices of the local area with regard to health and social care services across the sector; to monitor the range and quality of care services; to consider, report on and make recommendations about all relevant services; and to promote greater public involvement. To allow them to do that effectively, properly trained members of the LINks will have a power to enter and view services, just as the patients forums do now. That will include health and social care premises as appropriate.
How will they be organised? The Bill requires local authorities to make contractual arrangements for the support of these networks: procuring an independent host organisation, well versed in health and care issues, and likely to be from the voluntary and community sector, to support the LINk in carrying out its activities to facilitate user involvement.
The Bill, deliberately, does not set out detail of size and shape of membership or governance. That must be the responsibility of the LINk organisation itself; we will support the process by providing model contracts and guidance, but that must be locally owned and designed. Currently, there are nine early-adopter schemes which are not pilots, but areas which are working through these issues. Their experience will inform our guidance and the support we will give the emerging LINks.
LINks will be independent, as are patient forums. They will build on the best work of patient forums and we would encourage all forum members to become involved in their LINk, as the experience they have built up over the past three years will be invaluable to the success of the new system. As I think you can see, these changes are driven by a genuine
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In conclusion, you will no doubt agree that this is a wide-ranging Bill. So much so that there are some elements that time does not permit me to cover, but I hope I have demonstrated how seriously we are taking this opportunity to give local government, local partners and local people the tools and support they have asked for. We are putting the trust in local government and communities to find their own solutions that best respond to local needs and to shape their own agendas. It is for them to rise to the challenge going forward.
I should note that we still have some improvements to make to the Bill, and we will be bringing forward some amendments in Committee. Indeed, we have received a most helpful report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, to which my noble friend Lady Andrews will be responding. It may be that we will wish to bring forward some amendments to address their recommendations. I look forward to robust debate on the Bill, both today and in the coming weeks. I commend the Bill to the House.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for presenting the Bill in such a lucid way. It is very nice to see the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, in her place. She struggled manfullyor womanfullythrough the Greater London Authority Bill last night. We all thought she was very brave and we felt very sorry for her. I am extremely surprised that she is here today: our very best wishes to her for a quick recovery and a return to her normal robust health. We are also looking forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, and the noble Lord, Lord Mawson. We very much look forward to hearing what they have to say.
Before I start, I declare an interest as a member of a local authority, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. I suppose, in view of the later aspects of the Bill, I should also put on the record that I am chairman of an acute trust, so that that is clear.
I appreciate that this rather large and cumbersome Bill has come about in response to a number of local government concerns that have arisen since the Local Government Act 2003 was implemented such a short time ago and that there have been detailed consultations on the proposals now included. However, one might say that this is indeed an epic tale with a considerable number of shorter stories.
As the Bill makes major changes to the patient and public involvement in health and social care by the abolition of the recently formed patients forums, as the Minister saidI remember well the exchanges between the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and myself on the setting up of the patients forums and look forward to seeing how that works out againand the introduction of LINks, my noble
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We accept, as the Minister said, that there are some areas where progress has been madefor example, in the development of targets and changes to targetsbut we do not believe that decentralisation from the Government to local government has yet gone anywhere near far enough to give local authorities the ability to really manage their own affairs. Unfortunately, where we take one step forward, we usually manage to take two steps back.
We have heard a great deal about the Governments support of localism, but their apparent enthusiasm is still fundamentally unmatched by this legislation. The Bill is a missed opportunity to devolve powers over planning, housing, transport, skills and economic development from national and regional government or quangos to democratic local councils. It signally fails to address the Governments aim of civic engagement and securing economic prosperity, and leaves in place the whole tier of unelected regional government, something a future Conservative Government will abolish.
The Bill does not contain any proposals on the crucial issue of the reform of the local government finance system. It is strange but obvious that the Government are not going to grasp this nettle. The recommendations in the long-awaited and singularly undiscussed Lyons report have no mention in this Bill and the whole report is seemingly back in the long grass, while the CSR 2007 is due in the autumn.
To grasp fully its place-shaping role, local government needs to have a coherent and sustainable finance system. So, presumably, although the Bill is now under way, there is no appetite on the part of the incoming Prime Ministerthe former Chancellor of the Exchequer, who commissioned both the Lyons and the Barker reportsto take matters any further. One cannot blame him. Indeed, one can only applaud the common sense of leaving matters alone, particularly where, by doing so, the Government avoid the predictable unpopularity of a council tax revaluation. However, an enormous amount of time, money and energy has been expended on the production of these reports which have, so far at least, had comparatively little impact.
The first four parts of the Bill are devoted to reorganisation of the structures of local government. Indeed, the ink was barely dry on the early discussions in the other place of the proposals for limited extension of unitary government before invitations had been issued by the Secretary of State to a number of authorities to apply to be one of the first involved. As a result, a number of counties have applied to dissolve their districts and become unitary authorities, districts have applied to amalgamate to become unitaries, ballots have taken place which resulted in support for the process, and further ballots have taken place which have gone the other way, even
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What is it for? There appear to be no principles attached to this approach to reorganisation, just a vague feeling that some areas want to become unitaries. The Government are committed to there being no further invitations beyond those already being considered. They have indicated that no further reorganisation along these lines will be entertained. An even clearer view is emerging that fewer than 10 will, in the end, be sanctioned.
In her opening remarks, the Minister said that decisions will be made by the end of July, but all of this is before the principle of developing more unitaries has been agreed by Parliament. Of course, the Minister will tell us that no new bodies will be created without an affirmative resolution to regulations to do so, but that is the end of a road that has had no beginning and no consent as far as Parliament is concerned.
The Government were certainly right to sunset the Secretary of States power to direct reorganisation, but their whole approach must be questioned, and we will be doing so. What are the principles, as opposed to the criteria, underpinning their approach to reorganisation? How long will the chaos that is being engendered continue? What has happened to two-tier pathfinders? What incentives are there to support closer working in two-tier areas?
There are also proposed changes to the executive arrangements that will require local authorities to operate one of three models. While the aim of strengthening the council leaders role is welcome, the level of prescription that the Bill entails is not. Councils should be free to decide their arrangements, including returning to having a committee system, if they wish, rather than the current arrangements for scrutiny. The model of an elected executive model seems incoherent and requires much more clarification.
The further strengthening of the role of overview and scrutiny is an admission that this aspect of the reorganisation under the Local Government Act 2003 has not yet found a proper role. It is ironic that so much effort has had to go into ensuring that the remaining members of a council, who do not find themselves in the echelons of the cabinet, spend their time involved not in making decisions about their local community and the councils policies and actions but in trying to find out what is being done in their name.
There will be differing views, depending on the part of the country, on the formation of parish councils following a community governance review. While this may be unremarkable in counties and districts, it would be highly contentious in London, where there is already local representation through the boroughs and a second tier of government. London already has too many tiers of government; the Mayor is proving to be an enormous expense, and parish councils would
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No tears will be shed over the abolition of the best value performance reviews, and the excessively centralised performance indicators, which have involved onerous inspection regimes, will not be missed. My noble friend Lord Roberts will, I am certain, have something to say on the fact that these provisions will not extend to Wales.
There are many other aspects of the Bill that I do not have time to mentionmuch like the Ministerand some will be dealt with in more detail by my noble friend Lord Hanningfield when he winds up; and, as I have previously said, my noble friend Lord Howe will speak on the clauses and chapters on patient involvement. However, I do want to deal with Part 10 and the conduct of local authority members.
It is only a few months since the Government issued a revised code of conduct under the provisions of the Local Government Act 2003. The provisions have not yet been finally signed off in many authorities, and while they encompass such matters as the exclusion of actions carried out in the members private, rather than public capacity, which were helpfully clarified as a result of the Livingstone case, there is now another whole chapter of provisions on both the code of conduct and the work of the standards board. Members of local authorities have the right to think that the problems that arise are mostly of a comparatively trivial nature and that there are limited ones which have any substance to them. The Government are moving into overkill on these matters. Would it not have been better to bring them all together so that they could have been considered at one time and the code adjusted once? The codes of conduct are now having to be signed off by local authorities, so that they can then be revised again as a result of the Bill.
Finally, new measures were introduced in Committee in the other place designed to achieve economies of scale in waste treatment and disposal services. We are broadly supportive of these as they will undoubtedly save money, but in Committee we will want to look at the exact way in which those provisions are drawn.
The Bill is full of significant measures for local government. The number of speakers waiting to have their say is a testament to the interest that will be taken in it. Both my noble friend Lord Hanningfield and I look forward to the further stages, to testing the thinking behind the provisions, and to encouraging the House to make changes where we think they are required.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for introducing the Bill, especially as the Bench was barely cold from last night. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, regains her voice and has no cough very soon. My noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market should
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