1. What steps he is taking to reduce the burden of regulation on local government. (33545)
The Government are committed to reducing radically the burden of regulation on local government. We have already freed councils from the top-down controls of the comprehensive area assessment and local area agreement targets. The Localism Bill will go further, scrapping regional strategies and housing targets, the Standards Board regime and the duty to promote local democracy.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s reduction of local government paperwork. Not long ago, in order to meet Official Journal of the European Community requirements, Gloucester city council had to spend more than £300,000 on a tendering document for the redevelopment of King’s quarter. In this time of financial difficulty, does he agree that it is time for the European Commission to reduce the number of local government tenders that must follow OJEC rules, and so save taxpayers’ money in Gloucester and elsewhere?
My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point. In fairness to the European Commission, it also recognises the problem and is undertaking a comprehensive evaluation of public procurement legislation. I also know that the Local Government Association feels strongly on that; its snappily titled, “The impact of EU procurement legislation on councils”, highlights the specific difficulties faced by local councils. I agree with the LGA and the EU. I met Commissioner Hahn last summer and urged him to ensure that a similar light-touch approach is taken to the administration of the European regional development fund.
The Localism Bill, which we will discuss later, has more than 140 new order-making powers for the Secretary of State. Is not that the Government saying that there will be new freedoms and powers for local communities and then being very prescriptive about how they should operate? Why is it necessary to have among those new orders and powers a raft of regulations imposing non-elected mayors on places such as Sheffield, where there is no demand for them from either the council or the public?
I do not recall the hon. Gentleman making those points about the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, which contained a much smaller number of clauses and yet had 87 pieces of regulation. What we are doing is entirely necessary to liberate local government from the hand of central Government and is deregulatory by nature. As a friend of local government, he should be congratulating us and perhaps showing some contrition for his failure over the 2007 Act.