Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

[Amendments Nos. 177B to 178 not moved.]

Clause 116 [Revision and addition of targets]:

[Amendments Nos. 179 to 181A not moved.]

Clause 117 [Designated targets: revision proposals]:

[Amendments Nos. 181B to 182 not moved.]

Clause 118 [Approval of revision proposal]:

[Amendments Nos. 182A and 183 not moved.]

Clause 119 [Duty to publish information about local area agreement]:

[Amendments Nos. 184 to 187 not moved.]

Clause 120 [Preparation of community strategy]:

[Amendment No. 187A not moved.]

Clause 123 [Interpretation of Chapter]:

[Amendment No. 187B not moved.]

Clause 124 [Transitional provision]:

Baroness Andrews moved Amendment No. 188:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this and Amendment No. 189 are technical amendments that correct the clause and paragraph numbers relating to the Bill in the relevant sections of the Offender Management Act 2007, which are currently out of alignment. This will ensure that when the Bill comes into force the relevant provisions of the Offender Management Act add the Secretary of State in relation to his functions under Sections 2 and 3 of that Act into the list of partner authorities at the correct section listing partner authorities in what will be—or so I confidently expect—the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, rather than at what would be Section 80. That, I hope, concludes the debate that we had in Committee on the Offender Management Act and how it fits alongside this Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

10 Oct 2007 : Column 337

Baroness Andrews moved Amendment No. 189:

(a) in sub-paragraph (1), for “Section 80” substitute “Section 110”;(b) in sub-paragraph (2), for “subsection (3)(g)” substitute “subsection (4)(i)”; and(c) in sub-paragraph (3), in the inserted subsection (5A), for “subsection (3)(g)(iv)” substitute “subsection (4)(i)(iv)”.(a) for “section 80(3)” substitute “section 110(4)”; and(b) for “(g)(ii)” substitute “(i)(ii)”.”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market moved Amendment No. 190:

(a) provide information requested by a relevant overview and scrutiny committee, as defined by the Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22),(b) attend at a relevant overview and scrutiny committee to answer questions,(c) consider any report or recommendations of an overview and scrutiny committee, and(d) respond to the overview and scrutiny committee indicating what (if any) action the organisation proposes to take.”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I thought that I should speak to this amendment in case your Lordships thought that we were going to get through the whole of the second half without anyone speaking to an amendment. Amendments Nos. 190, 193 and 194 are related amendments and are all to do with the importance of proper scrutiny. As we have learnt from debates on earlier clauses, the Government are now moving much more strongly towards a model of council management in which there is a strong leader and the majority of councillors are engaged in scrutiny.

Effective scrutiny forms a large part of government proposals for local authorities. If local councils are to scrutinise effectively, their scrutiny must include the partnerships that they all have with other local authorities and with the voluntary and private sectors. The White Paper on which the Bill is based stresses the importance of that pluralist approach to service provision. If scrutiny is to be effective, members of overview and scrutiny committees may have to talk to some of those partners. My Amendment No. 190 includes contractors in the scope of the Bill.

When services are outsourced and the contracts are let, there is always a major public concern that there will be a loss of transparency in how services are delivered and what will happen when things go wrong.

10 Oct 2007 : Column 338

It will quite often be the case that when an overview and scrutiny committee looks at one of these issues, one of the main points at issue may be the way in which the council has let or managed the contract. If the only person to whom the overview and scrutiny committee talks comes from the council, which is what the Minister suggested in Committee, the committee will hear only one side of the story. The contractor may have real problems with the way in which the council is managing the contract but the overview and scrutiny committee will not know that because it will not be able to talk to the contractor. If it is to scrutinise effectively, it is important to have all the tools available. After all, we are talking about very large sums of public money here. It does not matter who is providing the service, a principle is involved that no one should be shielded from effective public scrutiny.

Amendments Nos. 193 and 194 seek to do the same thing but with relevant partner authorities. As local area agreements and partnership increase in importance, it is vital that an overview and scrutiny committee is able, where appropriate, to talk to other partners involved in the delivery of services. I beg to move.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, we discussed this in Committee. The noble Baroness raises an important point. I do not have anything very new to say to her. Although we appreciate the intention behind the amendment, it raises issues which are serious enough to warrant not accepting it.

Section 21 of the Local Government Act provides that a scrutiny committee can request information from anyone but the powers to require information are limited to a member of the executive or an officer. We stated in the White Paper—we have carried it into the Bill—that we would strengthen the role of overview and scrutiny committees to support councils in their place-shaping role and extend that power by enabling them to require information from public service providers, subject to the duty to co-operate on local area agreements. That is what the Bill does and it is a very welcome and significant extension.

It was also clear in Committee that we all thought that it was important to get the balance right in the way we strengthen these powers. We want to see scrutiny committees looking at strategic issues, in particular the role of the local authority and local partners in delivering the sustainable communities strategy through local area agreements. Therefore, they will be able to request information from the council and those responsible for public services.

I have no difficulty in agreeing with the noble Baroness that in some circumstances scrutiny committees may have concerns about the detailed way in which services are delivered, including where they have been contracted out. There is a lot of progress towards contracting out these days. Where they contract services it is vital to continue to expect that local authorities and others responsible for public services will as a matter of course specify in those contracts the arrangements enabling them to obtain information as part of the monitoring process in which they are involved. Contracts allow those

10 Oct 2007 : Column 339

commissioning the services to stipulate the terms and conditions of the arrangements. It would be very odd if they did not set out reporting requirements as part of that.

The other point to which I return is accountability. Throughout the passage of the Bill we have said consistently that we think it is important that councils and other public bodies remain ultimately responsible for the services they commission. That is the spirit of the Bill. If councils were to request information from those contracted by other public service providers, it would be very confusing—a healthcare provider contracted by the PCT could find itself being scrutinised by the local authority to whom it is not accountable and by the PCT to whom it is accountable. This could be seen as letting the PCT off the hook for the way it has commissioned those services but it would also be confusing and burdensome for the service provider to be pulled in different directions. There is a real point there.

Where councils require those responsible for public services to provide information and request that they appear before the committee, they will be able to ask their contractors along to accompany them. That may serve much of the purpose the noble Baroness seeks. I am sure she will agree that we should seek to minimise regulation on the business and voluntary sectors rather than placing unnecessary requirements on them. We believe that the arrangements in the Bill provide for clear lines of accountability which can be understood by commissioners and providers alike. That is why I cannot accept Amendment No. 190.

9.45 pm

Amendments Nos. 193 and 194 concern the requirements on partner authorities to appear before O&S committees. As I explained in Committee, we intend in the regulations enabling councils to require information from local partners to provide that the partner will have the choice about whether to respond in writing within 20 days or to appear before the scrutiny committee.

I take the point that has been made again this evening that sometimes it is better to discuss matters face to face, but I remind noble Lords of the context in which the scrutiny powers operate. They will apply to those responsible for public services who are subject to the duty to co-operate. They will be those with whom local authorities have partnership arrangements. We are not convinced that in those circumstances it would be helpful to allow local authorities to compel the officers of all those partners to attend scrutiny committees and be required to answer questions. That feels rather more like interrogation. It is important to maintain partnership working in such a way that councils do not believe that the only way of resolving an issue is to compel a partner to appear to answer questions.

10 Oct 2007 : Column 340

Most local authorities have very good partnership-working arrangements. The White Paper sets that out as the foundation for going forward. But we know that there are challenges. You could not work in local authorities and the voluntary sector without knowing that, as the contractual arrangements reflect. We do not think that compelling partners to attend and answer questions is the answer. If anything, there could be circumstances where enforced attendance would exacerbate the situation. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said in Committee that it was better to have a stick and not use it. The partnership-working arrangements in the White Paper set out a vision of local partners co-operating; they are not intended to provide sticks that the partners could use to beat each other with. We are trying to be careful and to achieve a balance, but I do not think that the amendment would help.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with much of what the Minister has said about bureaucracy and regulation. The difficulty from my point of view is that I would not be starting from here. I did not create the overview and scrutiny model and the split between the executive and the rest of the council that is responsible for scrutiny. That has been created by this Government.

The Government need to think very carefully about the long-term effects of the structures that they created in the 2000 Act and which go forward in this Bill. Those structures continue to bring into sharp contrast the executive role of some members on the one hand—or, in the case of a mayor, one member—and the scrutiny function of the others. As time goes on, the demarcation between those two groups of people will become clearer and clearer, and councils will become slightly more polarised.

The elected members who are not on the executive or who do not become mayors are to be given the job of scrutiny. My contention is that, if they are to be given that job and if it is to be done effectively, they have to have all the tools at their disposal. I understand how accountability might be built into contracts, but the contracts will be let by the executive arm of the council, not by the other arm, and the executive arm may not have an interest in building robust scrutiny into the contracts. I urge the Government to think very carefully about how this will work in practice. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page