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Local Authorities (Cost-Effectiveness)

Volume 973: debated on Wednesday 14 November 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what proposals he has to encourage local authorities to compare their cost-efficiency in the provision of services with that of other local authorities.

I shall be seeking powers this Session to require local authorities to publish more information about the cost of their services in a form which will enable comparisons of performance to be made. My proposals are outlined in a consultation paper published on 24 October, a copy of which is in the Library.

Will the Secretary of State please make a statement at the earliest opportunity about the action that he intends to take against those local authorities which are giving or will be giving poor service to ratepayers? Will he make his views known to the councils' associations? Will he take action against London authorities, such as Lambeth, which intend to persist in working against the Government's policy?

It is my responsibility to set ceilings and overall targets. It is a matter for the local democratic processes to discuss the quality of services provided by individual authorities.

Will the Minister comment on how he views the presence of Lord Bellwin in his Department to assess the efficiency of local authorities? Will Lord Bellwin try to impose the values that he obtained at Staflex International—that is, complete closure, bankruptcy and thousands on the dole? Is that the aim?

I think that the hon. Member will recognise that Lord Bellwin has substantial experience in running a major authority. The Department aims to take advantage of the benefit of that experience. If the Government of whom the hon. Gentleman was once a member had ever listened to experts, they might have governed rather more effectively.

Is the Secretary of State aware that many senior local government officers are becoming increasingly alarmed at the dictatorial determination of the Government to reduce them to mere agents of central Government?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should criticise this Government, when he spent six years in a Government who were trying to achieve precisely that. It is the elected representatives in local government who must have the last say about local priorities, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have appreciated that.