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A local government Bill should give us some real opportunities to rebuild local democracy, empower local government, provide councils with the resources that they need and restore confidence in local government, which, as we have heard this afternoon, is to become more visible. I wrote that down with a question mark. This should be a chance for a more equal partnership between central and local government, as we see elsewhere in Europe and around the world.
We welcome the chance to debate the Bill. I particularly look forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, whose work in Bromley-by-Bow is an extraordinary example of taking forward what can happen in a local community, and of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, who brings so much experience to the issues that we will be debating. I am also looking forward to, although not a maiden speech, the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough, whose parishioner I was until he became very grand and moved. I know that he knows a thing or two about community affairs.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, described this as a missed opportunity and a disappointment; my noble friend, too, gave me those words in her notes. They are more polite than I am, or perhaps they are using Lords-speak. I have to say bluntly that I regard this as a bad Bill. It purports to be decentralising, but it does not address the most centralising feature of local governance, which is finance. Public accountability for funding decisions is blurred because so large a proportion of funding comes from central government. We have an annual round of claim and counter-claim between the centre and local government. I agree with the noble Baroness that the Lyons review was a wasted opportunity. The Government now seem retrospectively to be trying to shoehorn much of what Lyons said into their agenda.
Council tax is still with us. Noble Lords will not be surprised that I take this opportunity to say that it needs to be replaced by a fair tax based on ability to pay. There is a wide call to return the uniform business rate to local control. I am interested in the proposals for the supplementary rate, but they raise many questions in my mind. We need a reduction in the ring-fenced grant and the other central controls on how local councils makeindeed, have to makespending choices.
The Bill does not include measures to make local government more representative and responsive. Noble Lords will have received a briefing from the Electoral Reform Society, which states that there is a glaring omission of any reference to reform of the electoral system. We are all aware of the one-party states around the country and the dangers of councillors becoming out of touch as a result. I say that having been a councillor on a London borough at a time when we held 92 per cent of the seats on 49 per cent of the vote. I thought that that was wrong, then; I think that it is wrong now.
Nor does the Bill address one of the great iniquities of our time: the quango state. Quangos, trusts and boards spend more money than local authorities. It is time that we had proper democratic oversight of those bodies. The Bill highlights the problems caused by the absence of a constitutional settlement for this country. Council structures, functions and governance are completely at the whim of central government. The Bill proposes two major structural changes: the creation of unitary councils in some areas and the introduction of new models of governance that place all executive power in the hands of a mayor or a so-called strong leader.
What exactly are the Government seeking to achieve? Many of us have debated these issues in this Chamber with extraordinary frequency. There is change after change, but never time for the new provisions to take root and, most particularly, no time for assessment. We have seen the development of a whole new industry of inspection, audit, analysis, target setting and performance management. When I was a local councillor in the 1980s, I welcomed performance management. It took the form of advice that one could considerbenchmarking and so on. It has changed dramatically since then, but by every measure that the Government have thrown at local councilsGershon, comprehensive performance assessment and so onlocal councils have improved their performance dramatically and there is evidence of real commitment and willingness to improve right across the board.
However, there is no evidence that strong leadership leads to better performance. When I use that term, it is almost always in quotation marks for the purposes of this debate. There is no evidence that the reforms proposed in the Bill will do anything to improve the process. Indeed, it seems to us that there is a danger that focusing on structural reform will cause councils to take their eye off the ball of serving their local communities. The evidence from the last round of unitary creations is that it takes some timeyearsfor their operational effectiveness to reach the level previously held, and then even longer to get ahead of that.
If the Bill is not about improving efficiency, value for money and service delivery to local citizens, what is it for? How can there have been a numerical limit on the number of unitary authorities to be created before the principles are set in place? It is not clear to us how the Government intend to balance the elements of the costs of reorganisation, operational efficiency or the loss of it, and local interests and aspirations. Surely it must be for local people ultimately to decide what happens in their area. That is true for overall structure and for governance.
I am not aware that the Government have any evidence that a particular style of governanceelected mayors, in particularmakes any difference to the performance of an authority. Do the Government accept that, with the infinite variety of situations across the country, we should avoid seeking to impose a limited number of models? Why is the status quo not an option? If the Government are so confident that their favoured models are right, why do they not leave it to local people to come to that view themselves?
In 2000, I was instrumental in increasing the population limit that would allow small authorities to opt for alternative arrangementsin fact, those were what we started with, so I find it quite difficult to think of them as alternative arrangements. That gave them wider choices. Some authorities exercised that choice and have moved on to other models. There have been 32 referendums on the establishment of mayors and in 20 cases the proposal has been rejected. In four of the 12 cases that went ahead, there are active campaigns to get rid of the mayors. It almost defies belief that the Governments response to this clear expression of local choice is to remove the referendum requirement and to leave the decision to the council without going to the people. Councils do not necessarily want that.
Colleagues of mine have met the leadership of the City of Durham Council, which is involved in what I understand to be a people say no to giant councils campaign. I believe that in Doncaster a petition of 11,000 signatures was presented to the council with a motion to call for a referendum, which was agreed. But there has been procrastination on the part of the authority and it looks like this Bill will lock the petitionersthat is, local peopleout of the process. That cannot be right.
The devolving of all executive power to one individual flies in the face of reality on the ground in the many areas where there is no single-party dominance and the council is in no overall control. There has to be concern over the adoption of this model, under which one might change to a single-person executive or a slate. The election of a slate put forward by the new leader could cause by-elections, which I cannot see being popular with local people. What happens if the balance of the authority changes as a result of those by-elections? I remain puzzled.
I appreciate that I should probably have worn purple today because I am presenting myself as the grumpy old woman that I am. When I became a councillor, the old committee system held sway. There was not the division between front-bench and back-bench councillors or the alienation from decision-making that we all feel is such a real risk. Calling councillors who do not hold executive responsibility front-line councillors will not fool anyone.
My noble friend Lady Scott says, Why on Earth will people want to stand for election simply to be scrutineers?. From my point of view, in London, which is very much bigger than any of these authorities, I value scrutiny, but it is a different situation and I support her point. I find great difficulty with the notion that not all councillors would be local ward councillors. When you look around at the great achievements of local government in the 19th century and the earlier part of the last century, you see that gas, electricity, sewerage, education and health were all delivered under the committee system.
My noble friend said that I should reassure the Government at this point that we do not have quite such issues of principle with the other local government parts of the Bill, although we will want to look at the detail of, for instance, local area agreements in order to understand how they are to work in practice. The
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My noble friend Lady Neuberger, who is not a grumpy old woman, will deal with the health parts of the Bill. For my part, I deplore the sequence that has led from the dismantling of community health councils, through the abortive commissions for patient and public involvement, to the new LINks system.
We will spend a lot of time on these matters in Committee. I conclude from these Benches by saying that we do not see the Bill making any real contribution to the rebuilding of strong local democracy or improved provision of services to our citizens. It has been put to me that we must beware of incremental change that might actually lead to a loss of democracy.
Baroness Campbell of Surbiton: My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I address your Lordships House for the first time. My breathing does not permit me to give long speeches, so noble Lords will be pleased to know that I will seldom exceed seven minutes. I wish to begin by paying tribute to the late Lord Carter. His encouragement and support over the years is one of the main reasons I am in this House today. I should like to thank also my sponsor, the noble Lord, Lord Ashley. I have had the pleasure of working with him for over 15 years, and he has given me terrific and great inspiration. My thanks also go to the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Wilkins, and to others who have patiently answered my endless questions. I also wish to thank the staff of the House. Their enlightened approach to my access needs has been most welcome. As a disability rights commissioner, I am happy to inform your Lordships that this place is one of the best models of good practice under the DDA that I have ever come across.
I have chosen this Bill for my maiden speech because most of my adult life has been spent helping under-represented groups fully to participate in their communities. I began my working life in local government as a disability awareness trainer, and I soon understood that disabled people needed to define the solutions to our own problems. Otherwise, public policy would fail. The term,
became our mantra in the late 1980s, and it has been our guiding principle ever since. I went on to become highly involved in campaigning for anti-discrimination legislation. That led, eventually, to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. In parallel to this, I also campaigned for community care direct payments, and the noble Lord, Lord McColl, was strongly supportive,
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These experiences demonstrated to me the importance of public involvement in shaping services, so I was thrilled to join the Department of Healths expert panel on public and patient involvement last year. This panel was tasked with looking at one of the proposals in the Bill; the setting up of local involvement networks, or LINks.
As your Lordships know, LINks will replace the current patients forums. My overriding reason for supporting the introduction of LINks is that they will bring together health and social care while placing greater emphasis on joined-up user and public participation. People like me who use both health and social care services seldom differentiate between social care support and health interventions. We need a holistic approach so that we are not bogged down by multitudes of different professionals, each armed with assessment forms which go on for days. Social care has a long and successful history of user involvement. Bringing it to work in an integrated way with healthcare within these LINks will bring a rich dimension to the public involvement described in the Bill.
The exciting thing about LINks is that they will be supported by host organisations, one for each local authority. There is no blueprint for a LINk and that is what is so good; each will evolve to suit local circumstances. This is a great opportunity to use the energy and creativity of a whole range of diverse stakeholders; for example, centres for independent living run by disabled people. They are, after all, the experts by experience in health and social care. They will be key members of LINks. What is more exciting is that, at last, they may also be excellent candidates for the role of a host.
To make LINks truly valuable in their local communities, they need to be opened to the widest range of user voices. This includes people with all types of impairments, people from minority ethnic communities and even people living in residential care. Consider how enabling LINks could be for older people. Their large and growing numbers mean that they are under-represented in local decision-making. There is increasing evidence that they are often exploited, neglected or abused, but their voices are seldom heard. I believe that the measures in the Bill will go a long way to empowering such groups actively to improve their health and well-being.
I am excited about some parts of the Bill which signal a culture of greater inclusion. As a new commissioner on the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, it is my responsibility to ensure that public services empower and involve all members of the public. We need inclusive communities where no one gets left out. Parts of the Bill take us in that direction.
Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, I count it a privilege to offer the congratulations of the House to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, on what I am
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We began our association in the dying days of the GLC. There are not many people around who are prepared to admit to that these days. The noble Baroness and I fought a kind of last-ditch stand in support of the disability resource team, where we both worked. That was quite successful, although the same, alas, could not be said for every part of the GLC. We have both since been intimately involved, as the noble Baroness has said, in the campaign for anti-discrimination legislation and inclusive education for disabled people. We came together again somewhat later as DRC commissioners, promoting and monitoring the implementation of the anti-discrimination legislation for which we had both fought.
The noble Baroness has also led in fields with which I have been less concerned. She mentioned direct payments and the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights. I would add the work she is currently leading on independent living for disabled people. Your Lordships should be in no doubt that we now have in our midst a big hitter, a mover and shaker of formidable talents, but one who is also subtle and persuasive. The record of her achievements attests to that. I am sure it will already have become obvious to your Lordships that we can look forward to benefiting greatly from the noble Baronesss counsel and inspiration.
Like the noble Baroness, I shall talk about Part 14 of the Bill, which concerns patient and public involvement in health. Although it takes up half the title, it is buried away somewhat obscurely in a Bill that is principally concerned with local government. Like the noble Baroness, I can see the attraction of the proposed local involvement networks in bringing together health and social care, but I have many more reservations about the process by which we got here and the amount of detail that still needs to be filled in before we can have confidence that we have a mechanism that is truly fit for purpose. I am reassured that noble Lords who have spoken have picked up some of the same imperfections.
In truth, if we track back, the gestation of the networks presents a saga of false starts, U-turns and changes of mind that are not an object lesson in how to run a railroad. I will not try your Lordships patience with the gory details; suffice it to say that for much of the time it appears that the Government have simply been making it up as they went along. For instance, they wish to replace the four-year-old Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health and patients forums. Apparently, however, they have wanted to do so almost from the moment they set them up. At the same time as they were setting up these bodies, the
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As for what is missing and still needs to be filled in, the Health Select Committee in another place described the proposed changes as vague and woolly. So they are. The Bill is silent on the membership, structure and accountability of LINks or the infrastructure to underpin them. Indeed, the Minister sought to make a virtue of the lack of infrastructure, but I venture to think that your Lordships will find that less than convincing.
Where the Bill is clearer, such as about plans to impose significant limitations on the rights of entry, the Governments motives are opaque. Nevertheless, there seems to be a widespread consensus that improvements in patient and public involvement in health are possible. I welcome the Governments obvious desire to secure such improvements and hope that the Bill can be made to serve as a vehicle for achieving that.
However, there remain many doubts. The Government are seeking improvements by abolishing the one national supporting body for public involvement in healththe commissionjust before setting up 150 new bodiesthe LINkswhich will all need resourcing over the recruitment and training of volunteers, and so on. They recognise that the LINks will want or need to set up their own national body to support them in due course. Is the Minister confident that a hiatus between the current regime and the next is really the best way forward, being, as it is, devoid of any transition arrangements or arrangements for training and the transfer of skills?
I am afraid that the departments assurances to the Select Committee that it was in discussion with the National Centre for Involvement, together with its reliance on publishing departmental guidance to LINks once the Bill is passed, give the impression of a measure brought forward before it is ripe. In any case, the National Centre for Involvement is not really the body to perform this role. It is rather an academic body, with only a fraction of the commissions budget; it was set up to give policy advice to the NHS rather than provide hands-on support to local consultative forums. I share the enthusiasm of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, for a new culture of inclusion and look forward to seeing her taking a lead in its creation. She is right that LINks need to be open to the widest range of voices, yet the Bill is silent on the right to be consulted, which the forums have had. That is why I hope the Minister will be able to provide concrete detail on the departments future plans and put such detail in the Bill.
There is much expertise in this House which could be tapped to improve the Bill. However, if all the substance of the new system will emerge only in subsequent regulations and guidance, Parliament will not, despite the name of the Bill, have a proper involvement in shaping patient and public involvement in health.
Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. I am sure that her clear insight into so many of the problems in our society, mentioned in the Bill, will be of great benefit to the House. I hope that we can look forward to repeat performances of her informative and excellent speech while we debate the Bill in the days and weeks to come.
The Second Reading of what is quite an extensive Bill presents the House with an opportunity to make comments and suggestions that will I hope lead to an excellent Act of Parliament and bring about improved benefits for the people who need and rely on our health and social services.
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