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Local Authorities (Overview and Scrutiny) Bill (Money)

Volume 506: debated on Monday 1 March 2010

Queen’s recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Local Authorities (Overview and Scrutiny) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of—

(1) any expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State in consequence of the Act, and

(2) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(Angela Eagle.)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I can see that the hour is late and that you are looking a little tired, so I will try and ensure that I do not detain the House for long.

Order. I am sure the hon. Lady is not suggesting that I am looking tired. I am full of vim, as is she.

I was trying to ensure that you are engaged, Mr. Speaker, and I am delighted to say that I have achieved my objective.

I will not detain the House for long. Suffice it to say that this is a money resolution. On Second Reading, the official Opposition said that we would not stand in the way of the Bill. We do not think that it is drafted as effectively as it could be to achieve what we support, which is helping local authorities to enhance their abilities to scrutinise bodies that provide public services on the ground. Local area agreements are delivered in part by organisations that are not local authorities, and we want them to be subject to full scrutiny, too. On Second Reading, we debated how that might happen.

Although we have some concerns about the drafting of the Bill, we support the resolution, so that we can have the debate in Committee. As I am sure you would expect, Mr. Speaker, we aim to play our role in the debate in Committee by making a number of amendments further to improve the Bill, which is important. As I briefly touched on, we need properly to understand the scope of the Bill—it could be quite broad—and how it works. If we can do that effectively, we have a good chance of ensuring that it does not become onerous financially for local authorities.

On Second Reading, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Dudley, North (Mr. Austin), who is not in the Chamber, said that local authorities would continue to work within their existing budgets and that the only costs he expected to emerge from the Bill were extra compliance costs for the public bodies that will be subject to increased scrutiny. We should also not forget the extra burdens that could be put on private bodies.

We support the money resolution. We understand that the extra costs to local authorities could nevertheless be in the region of £4.5 million, but that the Government have committed to funding any extra costs under the new burdens principle. Will the Minister confirm that the £4.5 million that is set out in the impact assessment is still the Government’s projected assessment of the cost of the Bill? Perhaps we will also debate that in Committee.

One final point is that if we are going to give councils and elected councillors more ability to hold providers of public services to account, we need to debate ensuring that councils can be set up with the structure that they think helps them not only deliver public services, but carry out that scrutiny best. They need to be given more freedom. In fact, the Local Government Act 2000 requires councils to abandon the traditional committee system and adopt either directly elected mayors or a cabinet system. We think that that is overly prescriptive, and that local government should be able to choose how to run itself more effectively.

Order. The hon. Lady is displaying an imaginative interpretation of the terms of the motion—some might even go so far as to use the word “liberal”, although I do not in any way wish to cast an aspersion on her—[Interruption.] Order. The sedentary contribution from the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) probably will not assist matters even if it might be amusing. I know the hon. Lady will now wish to focus her remarks on the terms of the motion. Just to emphasise the point, the motion does not permit her to dilate on the subject of the Bill as a whole, but on the matters of overview and scrutiny, with particular reference—and reference only—to money.

I was trying to be helpful to the Minister, because I was just about to wrap up by saying that we intended to table an amendment in Committee. I wanted to flag that up to the Minister—

As my hon. Friend says, it could help councils to save money if they could operate more effectively.

We support the aims of the Bill and we look forward to debating it in Committee. This money resolution is important as it means that that can now happen. I look forward to that debate.

This Bill makes provision to require local authorities with lead responsibility for local area agreements to provide designated scrutiny officers with sufficient resources to discharge their functions. That is what the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) was referring to in her contribution. This requirement may result in additional costs for authorities, which we estimate will be no more than £4.5 million a year.

In line with the new burdens doctrine, any net additional cost to local authorities as a result of this requirement will be fully and properly funded by the Government. The provision requiring these local authorities to resource sufficiently their scrutiny officers is necessary if the aims of the Bill are to be achieved. I commend the resolution to the House.

Question put and agreed to.