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I am conscious that I am trying to help the Government to give them more sensible names and not be quite so silly, which I do not really want to do with these bodies, because I would rather that they just disappeared altogether. Names matter. “Economic prosperity board” is a silly name because it risks being rubbished in a big way fairly soon after it is set up when it does not produce economic prosperity overnight, or even over five or 10 years. We should not name a body such as this by our hoped-for outcome; we should name it by its function. I therefore suggest “economic regeneration board”, which is what it is. “Combined authority” is just a daft name, for which I suggest “economic and transport board”. If the Government cannot think of a better name than “combined authority”, I can just imagine trying to explain it to everyone in Greater Manchester, if they get one of these things, with its name, “Greater Manchester Combined Authority”, up in lights on its building. On the other hand, it may invent a modern, trendy name and call itself, for example, “Come and Go”. I remember the bus company in Manchester calling itself SELNEC. Nobody knew what SELNEC was, but because it was on all buses, people knew that it was the name of the bus company. A combined authority will not have buses running everywhere—or perhaps it will. Who knows? Perhaps it will go back to SELNEC. But they are silly names. I beg to move.

Baroness Andrews: Combined authorities will be a combination of EPBs and integrated transport authorities. The noble Lord raises a good point, which I shall consider again.

The reason that the Bill includes prosperity boards rather than the noble Lord’s suggestion of economic regeneration boards is that EPBs may well be involved in regeneration, but they have to do other things as well. They are about increasing economic prosperity

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as a whole, so I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord as much comfort on that as I can on the combined authorities.

Lord Greaves: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 183B withdrawn.

Amendment 183C

Moved by Baroness Hamwee

183C: Clause 83, page 52, line 27, at end insert “with the participation and consent of each local government area”

Baroness Hamwee: I shall give the numbers of our amendments in this large group as I go through it. The group is about the role of local authorities. The first amendment, Amendment 183C, is to Clause 83. It would provide that the establishment of EPBs required the participation and consent of each local government area; that is, all the areas meeting the conditions listed in the clause. Amendment 194R would provide the same in the case of what I shall have to call a combined authority for the moment. The amendment must speak for itself about participation and consent.

Amendment 183E would provide that, before making an order, the Secretary of State must consult the local government areas in question and specifically—this goes to the point of the boards—consult,

determine that an EPB would be likely to improve them, and then,

I think that it will be obvious from the debate so far that not only are we opposed to the whole scheme for reasons of it being local government reorganisation by the back door, its lack of democracy and so on but also we are sceptical as to whether it is the right way to approach the matter.

It might be said that if local authorities want an EPB, they should have one and that Amendment 183E would be telling the Secretary of State to go where she should not tread. That would not be the case. It is no answer to say that local authorities want one, because that answer is likely to be incomplete. There will be a variety of views across a wide spectrum. A step as extreme as transferring local authority powers requires reasoned justification.

Amendment 194S is the same amendment applied to combined authorities. Amendment 188B would require the agreement of all authorities affected to the transfer of functions to the EPB or allowing the EPB to exercise functions in addition to the local authorities. Again, Amendment 194U would apply that to combined authorities. Amendment 194F is an amendment to Clause 93, subsection (6) of which appears to enable county councils to ride roughshod over the districts in their area if all the districts are within the scheme. This seems inappropriate, to use a mild term. Again, Amendment 194AF would apply the same provision in the case of a combined authority.

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Amendment 194G amends Clause 94; it would remove the requirement that the Secretary of State’s order has,

the previous clause. I accept that that is perhaps an overreaction because of my concerns about the imposition of the scheme, so let me frame the justification for the amendment by asking the Minister to confirm that the provision is merely saying that the scheme would be designed and then franked by the Secretary of State and nothing more.

Amendment 194AG would be the same amendment relating to a combined authority. Amendment 194H would require the Secretary of State to publish her reasons for the establishment of the EPB. Amendment 194AH is the same amendment for a combined authority. Finally, Amendment 194V would mean that any provisions or conditions that apply to orders regarding the EPB should apply in the case of combined authorities. I beg to move.

Lord Greaves: I have one or two amendments in this group. They are all essentially about the same issue, which is closely related to the questions just raised by my noble friend Lady Hamwee—that is, the extent to which the setting up and review of EPBs, their dissolution and changes to them, will be imposed on particular councils, to the extent to which they will be bottom-up or top-down.

Amendment 194D would require the consent of each authority to its inclusion in the area of a review. Amendment 194E refers to Clause 93(3)(b), which says that the review into setting up a new scheme,

In other words, the councils carrying out the review can decide to review other council areas even if that council does not want to be and does not agree to be included. That seems outrageous and simply ought not to take place. It is arguable that the Government have the right to do this if they are reorganising local government in a particular area, but the idea that a group of councils should be able to review an area that includes some of their neighbours who are hostile to the review and do not want anything to do with it is undemocratic and, in any case, is likely to result in an enormous amount of friction.

Amendment 194N similarly refers to changes to existing EPB arrangements and requires the consent of all the local authorities. Amendment 194AJ applies the same thinking to a combined authority area. Amendment 194AD requires a council’s consent to its inclusion in a review of a combined authority area. The amendments are all on the same lines and basically state that local authorities have the right to refuse, if they wish, to take part in any of these procedures.

7 pm

Baroness Andrews: I set out in some detail and at some length on the previous group of amendments how we see EPBs working and how they will be driven and designed by the authorities involved. If the authorities decide to proceed to a scheme, it will set out all the details of how the EPB will operate. We would certainly

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expect the authorities who are leading the preparation of a scheme to consult widely and to undertake detailed negotiations with all the authorities covered by the scheme to ensure that they are content. I genuinely believe that some of the worst case scenarios that the Committee has just addressed will not arise. In practice, the scheme will be prepared by an existing sub-regional group made up of representatives of the relevant authorities. That process should lead to all the authorities being content and accommodated in the final scheme.

However, Clause 93 additionally provides that to be included in a final published scheme an authority must either have participated in preparing the scheme or have given its explicit consent to be included. The only exception is that where the whole of a county’s area is to be included in the scheme, where only the county has to give its consent. That exception flows from similar legislation in the Local Transport Act for ITAs.

I take the argument, forcefully put by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that it is often at district level that economic issues bite and are addressed. It would obviously be right, proper and preferable for district councils to play a full role in any sub-regional working. We do not intend that any council should be forced into an EPB. EPBs are about consent and the cementing of partnerships working at the sub-regional level. They are unlikely to be effective if some authorities are not fully behind the arrangements. As I said, we therefore want district councils to play a full role in any sub-regional working that takes place between authorities.

We expect that any districts that do not wish to participate in an EPB would not be included in its area. That would mean that only part of a county would be covered by the EPB. Where the participation of the district is vital in securing an effective EPB, the negotiations will be very pragmatic and continue until an arrangement can be found that is acceptable to all parties.

Amendments 194F and 194AF would remove the possibility of a county deciding, without the consent of each of its districts, to enter an EPB. I have listened and heard very clearly the degree of concern on this point but, for the reasons I have given, this is something of a false issue. I believe that the exception in Clause 93(6) would rarely, if ever, be used. I cannot promise that we will accommodate those concerns but I am prepared to give more consideration to the role of districts in agreeing a scheme that covers their area even if the whole of the county is included.

Amendments 187D and 187F in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would require any district council whose area was covered by an EPB to have a representative on the membership. I agree that that should be possible but I am not convinced that it should be mandatory as it might lead to the EPB being too large to be effective. However, there is nothing to stop all districts being represented if that is what the authorities decide between them. Membership is a matter for the EPB concerned.

Noble Lords have tabled a number of amendments that would increase and strengthen the point at which authorities must give their consent to an EPB or a

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combined authority. As I have set out, the key decision point is when the scheme is completed and authorities which have not been involved in its preparation give their consent to be included.

Amendments 183C and 194R, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, would require that every local authority be involved in preparing the scheme for an EPB or combined authority and they must give their consent to it. My concern here is that it may be unduly onerous to insist that every authority is involved in preparing the scheme. It also does not seem necessary to insist that local authorities additionally give their consent if they have been involved in preparing, consulting on and drawing up the proposal, because by “participation” we mean not just minimal participation but full and meaningful involvement in preparing the scheme. We expect the provision to be interpreted in that way, and we will make that clear in guidance.

Amendments 188B, 194D, 194E, 194J, 194N, 194V, 194AD, 194AE, 194AJ and 194AN address variations of the same theme. They seek to provide further opportunities for local authorities to give their consent to the arrangements for an EPB or combined authority relating to their area—for example, providing that they must give their consent for their area to be included in the review, to the functions that will be given to the EPB and to the order that initially creates the new body. Our view, in relation to these amendments, is that by agreeing to the scheme for the EPB the authorities will be agreeing to all the arrangements that go with it—that is, the functions and constitutional arrangements. Being included in the review area, to pick up on the point made by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, will not affect the authority unless it later agrees to be part of the scheme, so it does not seem necessary to also insist that the authorities agree to their area being included in the review. Separate agreement to the Secretary of State’s order is also unnecessary; it will be presumed, as the order will be designed to implement the scheme.

Amendments 194G and 194AG would remove the requirement in Clause 94 for the Secretary of State to have regard to the scheme prepared by the local authorities. We have had a debate around the role of the Secretary of State and of the order, and I addressed these issues earlier on. I hope that in the interests of making progress the Committee will accept what I said earlier on that point.

Amendment 183E to Clause 83 would add requirements on the Secretary of State to consult local authorities and to determine whether an EPB would be likely to deliver improvements to the economy. These additions are not required as they would duplicate similar requirements that have already been placed on the Secretary of State in Clause 94. Due to Clause 94, it will not be possible for the Secretary of State to establish an EPB without considering that it is likely to improve the economy in the area or without consulting the local authorities involved.

Amendment 183E would also require the Secretary of State to publish reasons for deciding to make an order about any particular EPB. A similar point is made by Amendments 194H and 194AH for combined

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authorities. We will expect the Secretary of State to publish the reasons for her decision. In practice, that decision will surely not come as a surprise to the authorities because the process of developing an EPB will involve ongoing dialogue between the authorities involved and all the partners, which will include central government; so there is little chance of a scheme being submitted that is likely to be rejected. It is difficult to provide for ongoing discussion in legislation, but we will attempt to set out our expectations about that process more clearly when publishing guidance for local authorities on the process for establishing an EPB.

I am conscious that I have addressed those groups of amendments quite swiftly. If Members of the Committee do not feel that I have done them justice, I will be happy to write to them with further detail on any additional points.

Lord Greaves: I am grateful to the Minister for responding, particularly on an amendment that, with all this Alphabetti Spaghetti before my eyes, I forgot to speak to. I would like to pick her up on something she said about it.

I am grateful that she said she would look again at the position of districts in two-tier areas. It is more than just the specific question of whether they are automatically members of the economic prosperity board in their area.

On a whole series of issues, the Bill does not recognise or take account of the real role that district councils in some counties play in economic development and regeneration in their area. It is true that district councils vary across the country probably more than any other type of council. Some districts still do not get involved in such things; others are the powerhouse more than is the county; then there are those in between. It is vital that districts are properly integrated if this is to happen.

Where a whole county is in the EPB and the districts are not members, which the Bill provides for at the moment, will the districts have powers taken from them into the EPB, or will they simply be discounted? Secondly, under those circumstances, would districts be required to pay money over to the EPB to help to fund it?

Baroness Hamwee: Can the Minister answer the question not just as would but could? In other words: whether the power is there, not just what is the Government’s intention.

Baroness Andrews: My understanding—

Lord Tope: Which is getting better.

Baroness Andrews: Yes, which is getting clearer by the minute. My understanding is that districts could be members, but they do not have to be. Legally, they could have their functions taken away on that basis, but clearly, we do not want that. I have said that I will take away the issue of where districts sit in the arrangements and I am happy to do so.

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Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I apologise to the Minister for having interrupted her speech earlier when she was developing a thoroughly coherent argument. In the light of the questions asked from my left, I cannot help remarking that in the previous legislation to which I alluded, district councils were not given the ability to remain out of a unitary authority. The unitary authority was carried through by central government—admittedly in collaboration with the county council—in such a way that the structure was altered. It is that inconsistency with what is being proposed now that makes one mildly suspicious of the process.

Baroness Hamwee: I, too, am very grateful for the Minister’s undertaking to look at the position of the districts. That goes to the heart of a great deal of our concern—not all of it, but much of it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 183C withdrawn.

Amendment 183D

Moved by Lord Greaves

183D: Clause 83, page 52, line 30, at end insert “, other than a non-unitary district council”

Lord Greaves: I shall speak to Amendment 187B and the other amendments in the group, except Amendment 187C, which I think is in the wrong group. They are essentially all the same amendment.

The amendments are really intended to probe where an EPB is likely to be and where it will fit within existing structures. We mentioned this briefly but I do not think that we have had any sort of explanation from the Government of where they think they should be.

Are EPBs basically structures that will sit on top of existing unitaries and county councils? In other words, will they be groupings of top-tier authorities or might they in some circumstances sit between a county council and its districts, providing a sort of third tier of governance, to use a fairly neutral term, between the county and the districts? Is that possible? In some areas, might they sit on top of the top tier of unitaries as a tier of governance above them, or wider than them, and in other cases might they sit between the county and its districts as a third tier of governance at an intermediate level? I have tabled this group of amendments to probe this issue. I beg to move.

7.15 pm

Baroness Andrews: I was not expecting that question to be asked in relation to this group of amendments, so I shall simply have to answer by saying what I believe to be the case. There is, in any case, some important information that I should like to convey. The noble Lord has helped to explain why these groups of amendments seem to be moving in opposite directions, asking for contradictory things.

With regard to Amendments 193F, 194B, 194Z and 194AB, I am prepared to give more thought to the role of districts in relation to changing the boundaries of EPBs or combined authorities. Those amendments

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picked out some issues relating to boundaries, so I will look at the role and status of districts and also at the issues relating to boundaries.

Amendment 183D and the consequent amendments would remove the possibility that only part of a county council—that is, some but not all of the non-unitary districts in a county—could be part of an EPB. As I said before, EPBs are very much about trying to improve outcomes by allowing economic development activity to be more effectively co-ordinated across a functional area.

That leads me to make a very important point. EPBs and combined authorities are not measures to make changes to local authority boundaries. It has been said that this is local government reorganisation by the back door, but it certainly is not. EPBs are based on existing local government boundaries. We obviously have different mechanisms if we want to change boundaries and whole local authority areas will come together in EPBs. By constricting the areas to only counties or unitary authorities, the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would significantly reduce the ability of EPBs to pick up the sub-regional economic geographies, which will be very different in different regions. Districts in any one county will often fall into different sub-regional economies. Therefore, we have to allow for flexibility here, and it does not seem to be helpful to prevent a particular district, if it wishes to do so, aligning itself in an EPB with an area that is strongly connected to its own, even if it does not make sense for the county as a whole. The county council should obviously be involved in making decisions about an area for which it has responsibility. We are looking for very pragmatic and sensible arrangements here.

I should also point out that, if only part of a county enters into an EPB, all the districts within that part will have to give their express consent. We have discussed it before and I return to that point.

How will EPBs sit and what tier of authority will they be? I am not sure that it is very helpful to think in terms of tiers. We are looking for these functional bodies to be alongside local authorities and doing different things, but they will essentially draw on the powers that they need to deliver economic objectives. Essentially, EPBs allow local authorities to be together. Where they will sit within the range of descriptions that noble Lords offered will depend on the authorities involved. They may sit at different positions. They are a mechanism for collaboration between and across existing tiers, and that is the best way to think of them.

We want to give local authorities as much flexibility as possible to form arrangements. To make it impossible for non-unitary districts to recognise their economic links, as I have said previously, seems to be counterproductive. However, on the broader point to which the noble Lord addressed his amendments, I hope that he is satisfied by my rather pragmatic response.

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