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Local Government Reorganisation

Volume 229: debated on Tuesday 27 July 1993

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To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what measures he is to take to protect the interests of local government staff in the run up to local government reorganisation in Wales.

[pursuant to his reply, 8 June 1993, c. 218–19]: The chairman and members of the advisory committee on the staffing implications of local government reorganisation are to be:

  • Sir Richard Lloyd Jones KCB (Chairman)
  • Peter Anthony Bennett
  • David Hughes Davies DL
  • Michael Roger Towers
The appointments will take effect from 1 September 1993.The members of the committee will be able to bring to bear their extensive experience of management and personnel issues, which has been gained at senior level in both tiers of local government and in the public and private sectors. I look forward to receiving their advice.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement about his proposals to delegate power to area committees as part of the reorganisation of local government in Wales; and to which areas of Wales it will apply.

I am considering taking a power that would permit me to require shadow unitary authorities in certain specified circumstances to produce decentralisation schemes. Such schemes would set out their proposals for devolving responsibilities to area or shire committees. They would have to be produced in accordance with guidance prepared by my Department, and I would be empowered to approve and amend them.This proposal builds upon the statement my predecessor made to the House on 1 March when he suggested that a structure of area committees, representing the existing district areas, might be the most appropriate form of internal organisation for the proposed Powys unitary authority, given that authority's size and population. Since that time, my colleagues and I have been considering how best to give effect to that suggestion.I envisage that the power to require an authority to prepare a decentralisation scheme would be applied:

  • 1. Where a specified number of members—probably 10—of the unitary authority had requested it; and
  • 2. Where the Secretary of State was satisfied that a scheme was appropriate having regard to relevant geographic, cultural and demographic considerations.
  • Authorities would normally be expected to prepare schemes for areas based upon the present or former areas of principal councils.

    Each area committee would have real decision-making powers over the functions delegated to it by the full council. While the full council would possess, as at present, a power to override committee decisions, this would be subject to a qualified majority vote of, say, 90 per cent. so that the whole council could not overturn an area committee's decision without the support of some members of that area committee. Delegated powers could be returned to the full council by agreement; likewise, further powers could be devolved to the area committee.

    It would be for members of the unitary authorities in the first instance to suggest which functions to delegate. But they would decide which in the light of my guidance, and the decisions themselves would be subject to my powers of amendment. Normally, I would expect delegation to cover those aspects of a district's functions—for example, housing, environmental health, waste collection, local planning—that lend themselves to local administration, but some present county functions or particular elements of them could also be delegated.

    The decentralisation scheme would need to set out the principles upon which resources were to be allocated. It would also have to provide for matters such as access to staff and equipment.

    The power would be available for use in all 21 of the authorities proposed in the White Paper, Cm 2155. In practice, I do not envisage it being applied widely, but its availability would provide people from areas such as Montgomeryshire, Breconshire and Radnorshire with the assurance that their elected representatives will have substantial control over the administration of local services in their areas. It would not be available for individual towns and villages that currently are part of a larger district council area.