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Amendment No. 209ZA relates to the non-ratification of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. The charter provides that the powers of local government should be recognised in legislation and that they should be based on the proposition that all local authorities should manage a substantial proportion of public affairs in the interests of the local population. When in Opposition the Labour Party was always in favour of signing up to the charter, but in the 10 years that have elapsed the Government have failed to do so. Can the Minister tell the Committee what the thinking of the Government on the charter is? Have any discussions taken place with interested parties, such as the LGA? During the debate on the Bill in the Public Bill Committee in another place on 8 March, Mr Woolas said that he strongly supported the principles behind the charter. If that is the case, why have the Government not felt it
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): The direction of the noble Baronesss amendment has taken me slightly by surprise. The Government signed the European Charter of Local Self-Government on 3 June 1997 and it was ratified on 24 April 1998. I am not sure that it would add anything to incorporate it in the Bill. However, I will read what the noble Baroness said and take advice. If I can answer her, I will write to her.
The amendment would require the Secretary of State, when wishing to use the order-making power in Clause 106(7) to add or remove functions of the Secretary of State from the list of named partners, to have regard to the European charter.
Clause 106(7) has been drafted in the way it has because the statutory basis of certain local service providers is a function of the Secretary of State. In an earlier amendment we gave the example of Jobcentre Plus as an agency created to fulfil a function of the Secretary of State.
Other local or regional agencies may be created that use a similar Secretary of State formulation that is very useful. We may need in some instances to remove the present references to a Secretary of States functions if, for example, Jobcentre Plus were established with its own independent legal status. Before making such an order under Clause 106(7), the Secretary of State is required under Clause 106(8) to ensure that representatives of local government and other appropriate persons would be consulted. That approach is very much in the spirit of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I raised the amendment precisely to make the point about incorporation. The charter was ratified but it has never been incorporated into domestic legislation as it has in other European states. I was simply trying to use this opportunity to probe whether the Government had any intention of incorporating it into domestic legislation, or, indeed, whether any discussions had taken place. I will wait to hear from the noble Baroness in writing and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I applaud the recognition of the potentially wide role of other persons. However, I am not entirely clear where the boundary lies on the targets to impose a duty on local authorities and their partners. When partners outside the local authorities are brought in, what duties are imposed on them? The amendment simply asks for an explanation of that paragraph.
I seek to understand who a person is for this purpose, particularly whether a person under this paragraph includes a partner authority, or another partner, to put it another way. This is again a wide provision. Almost anything could contribute to the attainment of a target.
We talked before the dinner break about what we on these Benches see as the danger of an enormous amount of paperwork not the contrary, which is what we should be expecting. This is one of those Bills where the more one reads it, the more puzzled one becomes about certain provisions. Indeed, as other people speak to it, one sees new implications. That is probably the definition of classic literature, although I would not class the Bill as that. My noble friend says that it is a work of fiction. I see more and more puzzles in this, and I hope that the Minister can help me. I beg to move.
Baroness Andrews: I shall certainly try to help the noble Baroness. Clause 107(1)(c) is drafted very broadly because it must cover the broad range of providers of public services outside the list of named partners in Clause 106. By definition, therefore, it includes voluntary, community and private sectors. It permits these sectors to sign up to targets in the local area agreement which they can help to deliver. That, in a nutshell, is what the partnership with these other bodies will seek to deliver. As we said in the local government White Paper, in order to deliver the ambitions set out in it, local authorities will be required to work not only with other statutory bodies but with the third sector. We could just as easily have said that about the private sector as well.
I need tell no one in this Chamberwe will have opportunities to develop this themehow pivotal the role of charities, the third sector and businesses is across the field, whether we are talking about health, education or housing. The richness and diversity of the voluntary sector lies in the way in which we deliver
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The effect of this amendment would be that a local improvement target could never relate to a person other than a named partner, and so could not relate to a charity or other not-for-profit organisation or to a local business. Such organisations could not sign up to a local improvement target, so the amendment would prevent the recognition that we need. I am sure that the noble Baroness would not want that. We will discuss how those organisations will be involved when we discuss a later group of amendments. To reiterate, if local partnerships are to succeed, they must include representatives of the local voluntary and community sector bodies and local business. That will be made very clear. By that we mean not only the large, powerful charitable organisations but the little, nimble ones across the country that are doing essential work in some of the interstices of local areas.
On Amendment No. 209AA, Clause 107(3)(b) seeks to ensure that a person to whom a target relates has given consent. This enables that target to be included in the local area agreement. The noble Baroness asked what the term person covers. It covers partner authorities, as one can see from Clause 106, which sets out who the named partners are. Clause 106(1) refers to the persons set out in the rest of Clause 106. I hope that that will help the noble Baroness and that she will be able to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Hamwee: Yes, I will do that. We will come to some of this later, but I question whether the third sector, as distinct from the activity relating to the third sector, should be subject to a target. All of this comes back to targets. I still have not quite got my head around whether this imposes a duty on the third sector. On the second of my amendments, we have just heard that, because the third sector is not a partner under Clause 106, its consent to a target is not required. I think that I heard the noble Baroness say that. I am trying to piece this together.
Baroness Andrews: The third sector could be involved in formulating a target as a contributorI am thinking on my feet. If we take for example a target to reduce drug addiction, some of the key representatives of the work would be local voluntary drugs organisations. The target would be to reduce drug addiction by 10 per cent. The local drugs
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Baroness Hamwee: That is obviously the right way to go about the work. My concern is the implications of this Bill. Are there any sanctions against the voluntary sector if it does not do its bit? What happens to the whole target if the voluntary sector fails?
Baroness Andrews: We cannot put a duty on the voluntary sector. The aim is simply to get it to sign up, to commit and to do its best to make its contribution in relation to the ambition set in the local area agreement.
Baroness Hamwee: I am glad to hear that. No doubt there would be implications because the voluntary sector is funded to a considerable extent at a local level by local authorities. To pursue the point one stage further, the voluntary sector may say, We believe that this is what we can do to contribute to dealing with drug addiction, but the voluntary sector, particularly voluntary organisations, then may be unable to deliver because it was overoptimisticwe are not in the business of casting blame at this momentand overambitious. In that case, the local authority and other formal partners would be unable to meet the overall target because the voluntary sector, which is not a partner, had not been able to do its bit. What would be the knock-on effects for everyone else involved?
Baroness Andrews: One has to be common-sensical about this. The voluntary sector will contract with the local authority to deliver a certain amount of services. If it is unable to do that because it lacks capacity or whatever and was contributing such a significant amount that the target is put in jeopardy, the local authority will be able to do a number of things, such as contracting with another element of the voluntary sector. If it turns out that targets are too ambitious, local targets can be revised, which is within the scope of the arrangement.
Baroness Hamwee: I am sure that we will return to this because that raises again the question of the Secretary of States role in setting the target and, as I have said before, the fact that money so often follows the target. I have certainly given myself enough to think about for the next stage. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: Many of your Lordships will remember how positively received the idea of setting an upper limit on improvement targets was
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In the past the requirement to meet central targets has proved to be hugely costly, and in many cases has diverted resources away from areas that are of more concern to local people. The more targets there are, the less flexibility there is within the system for providing services. We must try to ensure that there is an upper limit on the Governments intervention in this matter. That is the burden of the amendment. I beg to move.
Baroness Andrews: The amendment raises an important question. I shall demonstrate the distinction between designated targets and local targets, because that will help as we come on to talk about later amendments. The draft LAA will be composed of local improvement targets that have been agreed by the responsible authority and the named partners following negotiation with each othernot set by the Secretary of State, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said on a previous amendment. That negotiation will be informed by local plans, particularly the sustainable community strategy; it might be a lengthy negotiation, but it will be thorough. Around the table, those local priorities will have been identified.
Within that process, some local targets will be identified that are drawn from the core national policy priorities, as identified in the bank of 200 indicators. Those are the designated targets, and they carry different processes with them. They are set against national policy priorities, against which every area will have to report. One of those 200 indicators might be reducing worklessness. Against that, the local authority will have to look at how, in relation to that national target, it can deal with its own local problems.
In those 35 targets, the national policy priorities posit a framework against which local areas will have to report, and which will cover everything the local authority delivers on its own or in partnership. When the draft LAA is submitted to the Secretary of Statewith those negotiated targetsvia the government office, the Secretary of State, on behalf of the Government, will formally designate the targets that are drawn from the national indicator set. That will not be a surprise at all to the LAA partners, because the indicator set will be made public this autumn. As the process for negotiating the local improvement targets as a whole goes through, everyone will be well aware of what the key national priorities are, and will therefore be able to make a judgment about how those priorities will be
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The local improvement targets within the LAA are not designated. They are not critical from a national point of view, but they will obviously be very important locally if one of the targets is, for example, to reduce a particular type of anti-social behaviour. Achieving that, however, will be a local priority. Such targets will obviously remain important to the LAA. The designated targets and the local targets are of equal weight in terms of the local area. Therefore, the named parties remain under a duty to have regard to them. However, those targets can be amended without reference to the Secretary of State; they will not be reported on to central government; they belong to and will be discharged by the local authority. There can be as many of them as the local authority wants.
Designated targets refer to those targets within an approved LAA which are negotiated and are of both national and local interest. However, it would be inappropriate to establish in the Bill an upper limit to the number of designated targets. We want the Bill to establish a sustainable and flexible framework for agreeing priorities in a locality. We have tried to make the process as flexible and responsive as possible. Putting an upper limit in legislation would be restrictive and arbitrary.
However, there is no doubt that we are committed to the radical reduction of targets. We want to see indicators coming down from 1,200 to 200. The LAA will be the only place in future where central government will agree targets with local authorities. There will be no other processes outside that. We also remain committed to the principle of ensuring that, where agencies and partners need to collaborate, they work towards shared targets as opposed to the present situation, where individual targets are often set separately and in conflict.
While I understood what the noble Baroness said, we believe that around 35 is a sensible number and that this issue is best dealt with in the statutory guidance. We have already said in the document, Developing the future arrangements for Local Area Agreements, that we expect LAAs to contain up to 35 improvement targets and 18 statutory early-years/education targets. I am happy to state on the record that we will reiterate that upper limit in the guidance for the next round of LAAs. I hope that that will reassure the noble Baroness.
Baroness Hanham: I thank the Minister for that reply. We need the figure 35 somewhere in writing. If the Minister says that 35 targets as the upper limit will be in guidance, that is perhaps acceptable on the basis that it could then be adjusted downwards at a later stage, whereas it might be more difficult if it were in the Bill. On the basis of the Ministers assurance that it will be in guidance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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