House again in Committee on Clause 106.
209ZA: Clause 106, page 68, line 35, after “it” insert “and in doing so shall have regard to the European Charter of Local Self-Government”
The noble Baroness said: The most entertaining moments of the Bill have been watching a succession of new chairmen attempt to negotiate the new chair.
Amendment No. 209ZA relates to the non-ratification of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. The charter provides that the powers of local government should be recognised in legislation and that they should be based on the proposition that all local authorities should manage a substantial proportion of public affairs in the interests of the local population. When in Opposition the Labour Party was always in favour of signing up to the charter, but in the 10 years that have elapsed the Government have failed to do so. Can the Minister tell the Committee what the thinking of the Government on the charter is? Have any discussions taken place with interested parties, such as the LGA? During the debate on the Bill in the Public Bill Committee in another place on 8 March, Mr Woolas said that he strongly supported the principles behind the charter. If that is the case, why have the Government not felt it possible to incorporate it into the Bill? When I was re-reading the charter, I wondered whether I had answered my own question, because Article 9 states:
“Local authorities shall be entitled, within national economic policy, to adequate financial resources of their own, of which they may dispose freely within the framework of their powers”.
“Local authorities’ financial resources shall be commensurate with the responsibilities provided for by the constitution and the law”.
I wonder whether those two financial clauses caused such reluctance on the part of the Government. I beg to move.
The direction of the noble Baroness’s amendment has taken me slightly by surprise. The Government signed the European Charter of Local Self-Government on 3 June 1997 and it was ratified on 24 April 1998. I am not sure that it would add anything to incorporate it in the Bill. However, I will read what the noble Baroness said and take advice. If I can answer her, I will write to her.
The amendment would require the Secretary of State, when wishing to use the order-making power in Clause 106(7) to add or remove functions of the Secretary of State from the list of named partners, to have regard to the European charter.
Clause 106(7) has been drafted in the way it has because the statutory basis of certain local service providers is a function of the Secretary of State. In an earlier amendment we gave the example of Jobcentre Plus as an agency created to fulfil a function of the Secretary of State.
Other local or regional agencies may be created that use a similar “Secretary of State” formulation that is very useful. We may need in some instances to remove the present references to a Secretary of State’s functions if, for example, Jobcentre Plus were established with its own independent legal status. Before making such an order under Clause 106(7), the Secretary of State is required under Clause 106(8) to ensure that representatives of local government and other appropriate persons would be consulted. That approach is very much in the spirit of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
I am afraid that the amendments do not make sense. I understand the noble Baroness’s broad political point about incorporation, and will write to her on that.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I raised the amendment precisely to make the point about incorporation. The charter was ratified but it has never been incorporated into domestic legislation as it has in other European states. I was simply trying to use this opportunity to probe whether the Government had any intention of incorporating it into domestic legislation, or, indeed, whether any discussions had taken place. I will wait to hear from the noble Baroness in writing and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 106 agreed to.
Clause 107 [“Local improvement targets”: interpretation]:
209ZB: Clause 107, page 69, line 1, leave out paragraph (c)
The noble Baroness said: I will speak also to Amendment No. 209AA. This amendment would delete paragraph (c) of Clause 107(1), which talks about targets relating to,
“one or more other persons acting, or having functions exercisable, in the area of the responsible local authority”.
I applaud the recognition of the potentially wide role of “other persons”. However, I am not entirely clear where the boundary lies on the targets to impose a duty on local authorities and their partners. When partners outside the local authorities are brought in, what duties are imposed on them? The amendment simply asks for an explanation of that paragraph.
Amendment No. 209AA relates to subsection (3) of Clause 107, where we are told that a target,
“relates to a person other than the responsible local authority if—
(a) the exercise by the person of … his functions … could contribute to the attainment of the target”.
I seek to understand who “a person” is for this purpose, particularly whether a person under this paragraph includes a partner authority, or another partner, to put it another way. This is again a wide provision. Almost anything could contribute to the attainment of a target.
We talked before the dinner break about what we on these Benches see as the danger of an enormous amount of paperwork not the contrary, which is what we should be expecting. This is one of those Bills where the more one reads it, the more puzzled one becomes about certain provisions. Indeed, as other people speak to it, one sees new implications. That is probably the definition of classic literature, although I would not class the Bill as that. My noble friend says that it is a work of fiction. I see more and more puzzles in this, and I hope that the Minister can help me. I beg to move.
I shall certainly try to help the noble Baroness. Clause 107(1)(c) is drafted very broadly because it must cover the broad range of providers of public services outside the list of named partners in Clause 106. By definition, therefore, it includes voluntary, community and private sectors. It permits these sectors to sign up to targets in the local area agreement which they can help to deliver. That, in a nutshell, is what the partnership with these other bodies will seek to deliver. As we said in the local government White Paper, in order to deliver the ambitions set out in it, local authorities will be required to work not only with other statutory bodies but with the third sector. We could just as easily have said that about the private sector as well.
I need tell no one in this Chamber—we will have opportunities to develop this theme—how pivotal the role of charities, the third sector and businesses is across the field, whether we are talking about health, education or housing. The richness and diversity of the voluntary sector lies in the way in which we deliver as effectively as possible in so many areas. It would make absolutely no sense to leave them out in any way if they were not positively held to be important partners. A major employer might wish to sign up to the targets in a local area agreement that reflect corporate social responsibility in volunteering or in reducing waste. Housing developers may want to sign up to affordable housing targets. Churches or other community groups may sign up to youth improvement schemes or looking after the elderly. When we talk about signing up, we include voluntary sector partners in the local strategic partnerships who have a very important iterative role in articulating not only their ambitions for the area but how they will contribute, talking through the targets as they are derived from the whole business of negotiation.
The effect of this amendment would be that a local improvement target could never relate to a person other than a named partner, and so could not relate to a charity or other not-for-profit organisation or to a local business. Such organisations could not sign up to a local improvement target, so the amendment would prevent the recognition that we need. I am sure that the noble Baroness would not want that. We will discuss how those organisations will be involved when we discuss a later group of amendments. To reiterate, if local partnerships are to succeed, they must include representatives of the local voluntary and community sector bodies and local business. That will be made very clear. By that we mean not only the large, powerful charitable organisations but the little, nimble ones across the country that are doing essential work in some of the interstices of local areas.
On Amendment No. 209AA, Clause 107(3)(b) seeks to ensure that a person to whom a target relates has given consent. This enables that target to be included in the local area agreement. The noble Baroness asked what the term “person” covers. It covers partner authorities, as one can see from Clause 106, which sets out who the named partners are. Clause 106(1) refers to the persons set out in the rest of Clause 106. I hope that that will help the noble Baroness and that she will be able to withdraw her amendment.
Yes, I will do that. We will come to some of this later, but I question whether the third sector, as distinct from the activity relating to the third sector, should be subject to a target. All of this comes back to targets. I still have not quite got my head around whether this imposes a duty on the third sector. On the second of my amendments, we have just heard that, because the third sector is not a partner under Clause 106, its consent to a target is not required. I think that I heard the noble Baroness say that. I am trying to piece this together.
The third sector could be involved in formulating a target as a contributor—I am thinking on my feet. If we take for example a target to reduce drug addiction, some of the key representatives of the work would be local voluntary drugs organisations. The target would be to reduce drug addiction by 10 per cent. The local drugs voluntary sector would commit to saying, “Yes, that is a sensible target, which we think collectively we can reach. Our contribution to that target and our activity would be to provide treatment for a further 1,000 cases a year”. That is how it would relate. If local voluntary drugs organisations did not think that the target was achievable, I am sure that they would work with the other partners to make a sensible and achievable target.
I am glad to hear that. No doubt there would be implications because the voluntary sector is funded to a considerable extent at a local level by local authorities. To pursue the point one stage further, the voluntary sector may say, “We believe that this is what we can do to contribute to dealing with drug addiction”, but the voluntary sector, particularly voluntary organisations, then may be unable to deliver because it was overoptimistic—we are not in the business of casting blame at this moment—and overambitious. In that case, the local authority and other formal partners would be unable to meet the overall target because the voluntary sector, which is not a partner, had not been able to do its bit. What would be the knock-on effects for everyone else involved?
One has to be common-sensical about this. The voluntary sector will contract with the local authority to deliver a certain amount of services. If it is unable to do that because it lacks capacity or whatever and was contributing such a significant amount that the target is put in jeopardy, the local authority will be able to do a number of things, such as contracting with another element of the voluntary sector. If it turns out that targets are too ambitious, local targets can be revised, which is within the scope of the arrangement.
I am sure that we will return to this because that raises again the question of the Secretary of State’s role in setting the target and, as I have said before, the fact that money so often follows the target. I have certainly given myself enough to think about for the next stage. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
209A: Clause 107, page 69, line 2, at end insert—
“(1A) In this Chapter “national improvement target” means a national target for improvement designated by the Secretary of State in respect of which there shall be a maximum number of 35.”
The noble Baroness said: Many of your Lordships will remember how positively received the idea of setting an upper limit on improvement targets was when it was originally floated in the White Paper. I think the upper limit there was, as in my amendment, 35. Virtually everyone, including local authorities, the LGA and Unlock Democracy, welcomed that proposal. Their commentary was approving. Subsequently the implication has been that that number is likely to be the upper limit, but thus far the intention has not been formalised in the Bill. Our discussions earlier today suggest that the fewer government targets the better, so that there were not so many, but if 35 was what was mentioned, 35 is what we believe it ought to be at present. We listened very carefully about lessening the regulatory burden and entrusting councils with delivering on their objectives but, until issues such as the question of targets are cleared up or formalised within the legislation, none of us will quite believe that this will happen.
In the past the requirement to meet central targets has proved to be hugely costly, and in many cases has diverted resources away from areas that are of more concern to local people. The more targets there are, the less flexibility there is within the system for providing services. We must try to ensure that there is an upper limit on the Government’s intervention in this matter. That is the burden of the amendment. I beg to move.
The amendment raises an important question. I shall demonstrate the distinction between designated targets and local targets, because that will help as we come on to talk about later amendments. The draft LAA will be composed of local improvement targets that have been agreed by the responsible authority and the named partners following negotiation with each other—not set by the Secretary of State, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said on a previous amendment. That negotiation will be informed by local plans, particularly the sustainable community strategy; it might be a lengthy negotiation, but it will be thorough. Around the table, those local priorities will have been identified.
Within that process, some local targets will be identified that are drawn from the core national policy priorities, as identified in the bank of 200 indicators. Those are the designated targets, and they carry different processes with them. They are set against national policy priorities, against which every area will have to report. One of those 200 indicators might be reducing worklessness. Against that, the local authority will have to look at how, in relation to that national target, it can deal with its own local problems.
In those 35 targets, the national policy priorities posit a framework against which local areas will have to report, and which will cover everything the local authority delivers on its own or in partnership. When the draft LAA is submitted to the Secretary of State—with those negotiated targets—via the government office, the Secretary of State, on behalf of the Government, will formally designate the targets that are drawn from the national indicator set. That will not be a surprise at all to the LAA partners, because the indicator set will be made public this autumn. As the process for negotiating the local improvement targets as a whole goes through, everyone will be well aware of what the key national priorities are, and will therefore be able to make a judgment about how those priorities will be refracted in the local area so that they will be of paramount importance in the negotiation.
The local improvement targets within the LAA are not designated. They are not critical from a national point of view, but they will obviously be very important locally if one of the targets is, for example, to reduce a particular type of anti-social behaviour. Achieving that, however, will be a local priority. Such targets will obviously remain important to the LAA. The designated targets and the local targets are of equal weight in terms of the local area. Therefore, the named parties remain under a duty to have regard to them. However, those targets can be amended without reference to the Secretary of State; they will not be reported on to central government; they belong to and will be discharged by the local authority. There can be as many of them as the local authority wants.
Designated targets refer to those targets within an approved LAA which are negotiated and are of both national and local interest. However, it would be inappropriate to establish in the Bill an upper limit to the number of designated targets. We want the Bill to establish a sustainable and flexible framework for agreeing priorities in a locality. We have tried to make the process as flexible and responsive as possible. Putting an upper limit in legislation would be restrictive and arbitrary.
However, there is no doubt that we are committed to the radical reduction of targets. We want to see indicators coming down from 1,200 to 200. The LAA will be the only place in future where central government will agree targets with local authorities. There will be no other processes outside that. We also remain committed to the principle of ensuring that, where agencies and partners need to collaborate, they work towards shared targets as opposed to the present situation, where individual targets are often set separately and in conflict.
While I understood what the noble Baroness said, we believe that around 35 is a sensible number and that this issue is best dealt with in the statutory guidance. We have already said in the document, Developing the future arrangements for Local Area Agreements, that we expect LAAs to contain up to 35 improvement targets and 18 statutory early-years/education targets. I am happy to state on the record that we will reiterate that upper limit in the guidance for the next round of LAAs. I hope that that will reassure the noble Baroness.
I thank the Minister for that reply. We need the figure 35 somewhere in writing. If the Minister says that 35 targets as the upper limit will be in guidance, that is perhaps acceptable on the basis that it could then be adjusted downwards at a later stage, whereas it might be more difficult if it were in the Bill. On the basis of the Minister’s assurance that it will be in guidance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 209AA not moved.]
[Amendment No. 209B had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
Clause 107 agreed to.
Clause 108 [Duty to prepare and submit draft of a local area agreement]:
209C: Clause 108, page 69, line 25, after “authority;” insert—
“( ) other non-statutory partners to the local area agreement;”
The noble Baroness said: This amendment is similar to one that was discussed earlier. I echo the concerns of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations that there needs to be a statutory duty on local authorities to ensure that this increasingly important sector is engaged and consulted properly when targets are being set. In moving this amendment, I declare an interest as the chairman of the English Volunteering Development Council.
The amendment would place the voluntary organisation on the same statutory footing as other partner authorities. The Minister to some extent responded to this earlier, but we want to emphasise that the voluntary non-statutory sector is becoming increasingly important to local authorities. It is now delivering a large part of critical services, and much of the voluntary sector is contracted to provide services to local authorities. However, it is still made up of volunteers—people who give their time to do the work, who should be included in what is going on. The Government have said that they cannot deliver the services to local communities without the input of the voluntary sector, and we all know that to be the situation. I am sure that everybody would agree that this sector is a vital component of the local strategic partnerships and the local area agreements, and its importance will only increase as time goes on. It is worrying that no status is given to the voluntary sector in the Bill. This amendment is quite similar to one tabled by the Liberal Democrats. I beg to move.
My Amendment No. 209CAA would do exactly what the noble Baroness has just outlined. It also gives the Minister an opportunity to outline exactly what the Government’s expectations are of the relationship between local authorities and the voluntary sector, with regard to not only local area agreements but best value sustainable community strategies and all the other statutory arrangements that pertain.
I have Amendment No. 210 in this group. I am grateful for the comments of my noble friend earlier on my Amendment No. 205 on further education. I recognise that schools are different, although the principle of involving schools in LAAs is important. I welcome the comments that she made about statutory guidance, and I hope that she will tell me that this will also apply to schools.
The amendment proposes a mechanism by which schools would be involved. From the comments that my noble friend made, one thing that we need to remember is that partnership is a two-way street. We need to ensure that schools and further education are involved in the processes of developing LAAs as well as expected to implement them. I hope that my noble friend will respond by saying how the Government think that schools will be involved in the LAA process.
I have one amendment in this group, which is Amendment No. 209CAC. This group is about the bodies that will be consulted when the local area agreements are being put together. We are probing what,
“such other persons as appear… to be appropriate”,
I previously suggested that local strategic partnerships should be a formal part of the local area agreement and among the partners, and I was given reasons why that should not be the case. I am now suggesting that they should be statutory consultees. I remind the Minister that we are talking not about one local strategic partnership in two-tier areas but about perhaps seven in Cumbria—that is six districts plus one county—about nine in north Yorkshire and 13 in Lancashire—that is 12 districts plus one county. So it is a lot of people.
The Government themselves said in their statement of intent that district LSPs are expected to,
“act as the overarching co-ordinating partnership”,
in that district,
“to take responsibility for cross-cutting issues”—
which presumably are all the partnership issues—
“and … ensure that district-level plans such as the Sustainable Community Strategy and the Local Development Framework take account of county-wide priorities”.
If that is so then they ought to be consulted as of right. I have to say that “ensure” is a strange word to use there, but we will leave that for the moment. This is to probe further the status and role of LSPs at district level, in what are inevitably going to be horrifically complex and convoluted countywide local area agreements, if that is what we get.
I support the points that my noble friend Lord Greaves has just made but from the perspective of a different part of the country. In Cornwall we have a very similar situation to the one he described—the LSPs are inevitably complex because of the number of participants. However, there are some general points here that need to be carefully addressed and analysed.
I heard the Minister refer just now to a “sustainable and flexible framework”. The difficulty that we are all faced with is that by developing a flexible framework you can leave some very loose ends. The dilemma constantly facing Ministers when they are trying to provide the right framework for local government is that they cannot be so directive that they are producing effectively a corset of restrictions while at the same time trying to insist on a level of delivery and consultation that is sufficiently flexible to enable the local authority to use its own intelligence—which we hope it will always have—to deal with local circumstances. All these amendments form a pattern. We are trying to devise a “sufficiently flexible framework”, to use the Minister's own expression, while not being so directive that we do not allow changing circumstances to provide changing solutions over the years.
I am reminded of the old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. So often in this building, in both Houses, we try to devise a system that is not only flexible but also tries to provide a clear intention on the legislature’s behalf so that those responsible for delivery can do their very best to meet the required targets. Every time I come into this Committee I am ever more fearful of the legislation’s consequences, because it is an extremely complex Bill. I am very glad that I am no longer, and have not been for many years now, a local authority member let alone a local authority officer. I can see that a new generation of local authority officers will have to interpret this legislation in order to meet the requirements that Parliament has laid on them.
In this Bill we are not getting on the right side of the balance, and I accept that it is a very difficult balance, between providing a flexible framework and ensuring that the consultees in this case are as widely drawn as possible, while recognising the facts at local level. I hope that the Minister can reassure us that that balance has been recognised and that the Bill incorporates it.
This debate on the notion of partnership, especially as it concerns the voluntary sector, very much illustrates the notion of boundaries. We recognise the realities of how things are done and how they could be done better. It is not as though we have presented a Bill that we have invented from scratch. We are building on successful practice in local authorities. We are working with local government and the Local Government Association. This is also a challenge laid down by Michael Lyons. There is some prehistory to this to which we are responding. It means working in new ways and it will not be as simple as we would like, but the challenges of the future are not simple either. We need to use the skills and imagination that we have across the statutory and voluntary sectors. That is what this is about. I am very aware of the situation in Cornwall. It is a very good example of the voluntary sector playing a critical role in a child poverty strategy and it is an example that other parts of the country could well learn from.
Amendments Nos. 209C, 209CAA and 212RA concern how to establish credibility in relation to the voluntary sector while not overburdening it. This group of amendments would require the responsible local authority when preparing the LAA or the sustainable community strategy to consult non-statutory local area agreement partners. That is achieved in the Bill. Clause 108(2)(a)(ii) already provides that the responsible authority must consult,
“such other persons as appear to it to be appropriate”,
during these preparations. The relevant word is not “may” but “must”.
The question has been raised as to the sort of organisations that might be appropriate. That will be entirely for the local area to decide—that is where the discretion will lie—and its decision will be based on experience and ambition. However, the amendments would remove that discretion so that it would have to consult all non-statutory organisations in the area. That clearly does not make sense. We build in discretion so that it knows who the key delivery partners from that sector are. We have the experience of the LSPs, 80 per cent of which have voluntary sector umbrella organisations among their membership. Nearly two-thirds involve businesses. We have a great deal of experience on which to draw. I think that we can rely on the common sense of local authorities to do that.
Local strategic partnerships are where the collective intelligence and experience of making local area agreements resides. The ones with which I am associated and have watched in action bring together an extraordinary range of dedicated, committed and experienced people. They know what they want to achieve in their local areas and by and large they know how to do it. For the first time they have been able to work together to show how they complement and add value to each other’s work. That will continue because there is no other body like the LSPs. They will have to contribute their experience and be part of the formative process of making the LAA. There is no choice in that regard. However, for the reasons I explained, we cannot put this in statute. We cannot make them named partners or cannot refer to them as statutory consultees because they are not legal entities—they are partnerships. But, my word, they will be consulted because they will have to be. We shall make that perfectly clear in guidance if anyone is in any doubt, but I do not think that there will be any doubt at all.
I have absolutely no disagreement with my noble friend on schools. I believe passionately that schools are at the heart of our communities. We ask an inordinate amount of them and they contribute an inordinate amount to the welfare of the community far beyond what is provided in the school day and in the buildings. The 18 statutory early years and education performance targets will form part of every local area agreement. They are built up from the statutory targets that are set each year for local authority maintained schools. Schools are engaged in local partnerships in many different ways such as through children’s trusts and the Children and Young People’s Plan. That all feeds into the sustainable community strategy.
Section 38 of the Education and Inspections Act places a duty on school governing bodies to have regard to the Children and Young People’s Plan. A number of strategies make it clear that schools are involved in place shaping activity where it is appropriate. That is the point. It is a matter of burdens and effectiveness. Some local authorities have well in excess of 300 schools. Many of them are small primary schools which have a very limited capacity to contribute to strategic level discussions, as they would admit themselves. To place a duty on responsible local authorities to consult or co-operate with them without discretion would add a huge burden and huge bureaucracy. However, schools will be involved in many different and more effective ways.
I hope that the Committee is satisfied with those remarks.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Earlier we discussed the impact on residents of registered social landlords—a matter we shall come back to. The Minister’s advice was that they were not an authority or a body within the terms of the clause. The same has now been said about the voluntary and third sector. Here we have two major players in local communities which are being left on the branch on the basis that they are so important they are bound to be consulted. Voluntary organisations are not at all comfortable that that will happen unless they are added to those bodies which must be taken into account in local area agreements, and whether they are part of local strategic partnerships is not what we are talking about.
We have a problem here in that two major bodies which have a big investment in local areas are not to be included in the Bill. I think I have understood the Minister correctly, and we will probably come back to this because it is important. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 209CA had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
[Amendment No. 209CAA not moved.]
[Amendment No. 209CAB had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
[Amendment No. 209CAC not moved.]
209CB: Clause 108, page 69, line 33, after “being” insert—
“( ) the community strategy of each district council is a county in which there are a county council and district councils.”
The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 210A and 212MB in the group. Amendments Nos. 209CB and 212MB refer to community strategies at the district level, while Amendment No. 210A refers to the extent to which targets may be varied at the district level or at some other sub-county level. Again, I am talking mainly about two-tier areas. I should say that I have just discovered a misprint in Amendment No. 209CB. It should read,
“the community strategy of each district council in a county in which there are a county council and district councils”.
not “is a county”, as printed in the Marshalled List. No doubt someone will put that right.
I am becoming increasingly confused because I am told that local strategic partnerships, the bodies responsible for preparing community strategies, do not exist in any legal sense and therefore cannot be included in the Bill. The Minister has suggested that they are an informal arrangement, which seems extraordinary when the strategies are produced by the LSPs and vast amounts of money are disbursed by central government through them. I had not understood that previously, and I shall inquire about it because there seem to be some contradictions here.
Community strategies are produced by both district and county councils. The purpose of Amendment No. 209CB is to ensure that the local area agreement has regard to the district community strategy, and not just the county one. Clause 108(2) currently reads:
“In preparing the draft local area agreement, the responsible local authority must … have regard to … its community strategy prepared under section 4 of the Local Government Act 2000”.
That is reasonable. So the responsible authority, the county council in a two-tier area, has to have regard to its community strategy prepared under Section 4 of the 2000 Act. However, that section applies identically to counties and districts, and, so far as I can tell, the community strategies of counties and districts have equal status.
District councils and their LSPs—working together, one hopes, but not always—put a great deal of time and effort into producing their community strategy and into attempting to carry out its outcomes. A large amount of consultation takes place and a large number of people are employed in producing it. These community strategies are inevitably much more locally based than county ones and it would seem sensible for the local area agreements to take account of them in each district.
Amendment No. 212MB applies to a revision proposal in exactly the same way as Amendment No. 209CB refers to the preparation of the community strategy. It covers the same thing and so I shall say nothing more about it.
This leads on to the question of targets and how far they can vary within a local area agreement in different parts of the responsible authority. The Minister earlier said that they can have as many targets as they wish over and above the 35 designated targets and implied that they could vary from locality to locality. So, to take a North Yorkshire example, you could have different targets in Craven than in Scarborough to take account of the different circumstances in the Yorkshire dales, the Yorkshire coast or, indeed, the Selby coalfield.
The purpose of Amendment No. 210A is to probe how far the designated targets, although they may refer to the same things across a widespread county, can have different targeted outcomes in different parts of the county. For example, the Minister referred to anti-social behaviour—I do not know what is going to be in the national targets and I do not know who does—as being perhaps a local target but the national Government might think that reducing worklessness is worthy of being a designated target. Yet different parts of such a large county could have different levels of unemployment, as we used to call it—or “worklessness” as it is now—so could the target in Burnley be different from the targets in Wyre or the Fylde coast, for example, where the circumstances might be very different?
Equally, the health of people in various parts of these widespread counties might be quite different. For example, in the old cotton towns there is a backlog of lung disease and heart disease as a result of the conditions in which people worked in the mills—the cotton dust, the damp atmosphere and so on—so the targets for chest diseases might be different in Burnley and Accrington from other parts of Lancashire. Can those targets vary within a county? If they cannot, then the one-size-fits-all nature of a local area agreement would make it utterly ridiculous and unworkable. I could quote many other examples but I think I have made the point quite clearly. I beg to move.
I hope to give the noble Lord reassurance on both sets of amendments. As regards Amendments Nos. 209CB and 212MB, the noble Lord argued that it is critical that countywide LAAs are able to reflect the different characteristics of the individual districts. The community strategy, of course, is an expression of local difference and is a vital and accurate evidence base for the local area agreement, which it will reflect to a large extent. Because we want it to be reflected in that way, we have anticipated concerns in regard to district community strategies being represented in the county strategy and we have proposed changes to the way in which a county sustainable community strategy is drawn up in Clause 116 of the Bill to ensure that counties take on districts’ priorities in the countywide plan. If the noble Lord looks at Clause 116(2), he will see that we are providing that the responsible authority, when preparing the community strategy, must consult each named partner in Clause 106, which will include district councils in two-tier areas. The views and the assessments of the needs of the county’s various districts will be taken into account by the countywide sustainable community strategy. We stated that in the local government White Paper, and we will reiterate that in guidance. I hope that will be of some help.
The noble Lord asked how the designated national targets affect what happens on the ground, which is important. In Amendment No. 210A, he has asked about the scope for targets to address specific geographical areas within the overall county and two-tier authorities. It is absolutely vital that those targets are flexible enough to address particular geographical areas. As the noble Lord said, one size will not fit all, and the example that he used of worklessness is absolutely valid. The characteristics and the needs of districts and of groups of districts will be very different across the country. Therefore, we have made arrangements within the scope of the Bill and the LAAs to set some indicators in the national indicator set to make sure that they are set at the district and neighbourhood level, and they can be picked up in the statutory guidance. The fact that they are designated targets does not mean that they will be national targets that will essentially be applied locally; they can also be set—if that is what the negotiation arrives at—by district and neighbourhood level. I hope that will reassure the noble Lord on both points.
I am very grateful to the Minister for looking at this matter quite so seriously, as it is important. This is the first flicker of light that I have seen on the horizon on this vexed issue of counties and districts and two-tier areas. I had picked up the clause that the Minister referred to. Again, the problem is that the county council as the responsible authority will be consulting districts, and that it will not be about the county and the district working it out on the basis of agreement or of equality. It comes back to the question of what is an agreement and, if there is a difference of opinion, how that will be resolved. That is where a lot of the fears are.
However, the fact that—if I understood what the Minister said, and I will read it carefully—local targets can vary locally at will, and some of the national targets will be variable locally where appropriate, is good news. It gives some hope that the very wide so-called local area agreements, which do not appear local at all to a lot of the people involved in them—they are too wide to be local—nevertheless can be broken down into localities, where they can have some meaning. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
209CC: Clause 108, page 69, line 34, leave out sub- paragraph (ii)
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 212 is grouped with this amendment, which is to take out the requirement for a responsible local authority to have regard to the Secretary of State’s guidance. In the world in which we live there will be guidance, so I am not expecting this amendment to be agreed to. It was brought to my attention—and no doubt that of other noble Lords—by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities, which have raised questions about the fact that all that is referred to is the community strategy and the Secretary of State’s guidance. They say that they had understood from the White Paper that there was to be,
“a mutual duty on partners to have regard to each others’ plans”,
and are concerned that other statutory plans, such as the local policing plan, which, they say,
“synthesises national and local policing requirements”,
will not have the same weight given to them. There is, of course, the knock-on effect of the distribution of targets, although we have heard a good deal about flexibility of local targets.
ACPO and APA are concerned about obliging partners to have regard to the Secretary of State’s guidance. They say that the relevant Secretary of State in this context will be the Home Secretary, and they believe that there is a risk of confusion and conflict—they would probably feel if they sat through some of these proceedings that there might be a greater risk of confusion than that identified when they wrote this briefing—if government departments are not better co-ordinated than hitherto. The associations say that,
“policing already has perfectly adequate structures and mechanisms in place to guide partnership working”,
and that there is a risk of duplication likely to lead to greater confusion.
One might sum this up in a more general way by asking the Minister why there has to be particular regard to the community strategy and what status the other strategies, some of which I have mentioned, have in the programme of drawing up and submitting a draft local area agreement. I beg to move.
In speaking to Amendment No. 212 in this group, I am also concerned that many local partners which participate in LAAs still have responsibilities through their vertical relationships. Health is probably a prime example of this. A local health body would be subject to influence, targets or advice coming down to them from the regional health authority, the NHS nationally, the Department for Health and the Secretary of State himself. This can cause confusion about local targets and targets set from outside.
In the Bill, all that local partners are asked to do is simply to “have regard” to the targets in the LAA. My one-word amendment helpfully states that they should not just “have regard” to local targets—I am sure that there are laws that we all have regard to—but attain them. We need to put more responsibility on local partners to attain what they want to do.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for raising these issues. On Amendment No. 209CC, I begin by explaining why the sustainable community strategy is important. It is an evolution of the community strategies that were introduced in 2000. The purpose of the sustainable community strategy, which sets it apart from and above the specific service delivery plans and strategies, is that it must identify and address the most difficult cross-cutting issues affecting the area and respond to community views and priorities. The strategies already have to take account of national and regional priorities and established long-term goals and are the foundation of local area agreements. In future, we see LAAs as being the delivery plan for the sustainable community strategy. Their status sets them apart and beyond the other separate elements.
The police are absolutely vital partners in all this, and I respect and understand completely what the noble Baroness has said. All community partners will be—and, indeed, are—consulted on the community strategy, which obviously includes the police. As the strategy covers economic, social and environmental issues, it is also very important that other plans made locally should be more specific and less strategic. However, we will set out in guidance how the other statutory plans will relate to each other. That is very important, given what we say about the status of the sustainable community strategy overall.
The guidance is also important, and I know why the noble Baroness framed her amendment in the way that she did. Nevertheless, in the implementation plan we committed to ensuring that this and all other guidance issued by the Government relating to the White Paper would be phrased strategically. By no means should it set out every last detail on how things should be done, but it should indicate what we conceive to be best practice and solid advice. We are committed to developing that collaboratively, and we will continue to honour that commitment and to work with others—not least, for example, with the LGA.
Perhaps I may deal briefly with the substantive amendment and Amendment No. 212, tabled by my noble friend. I take on board his argument but the amendment is unnecessary. I understand that the intention behind it is to create a system that holds partners to account for delivery and not just the design of targets. That is clearly important but it is exactly what Clause 110 currently provides for. The clause states that, once the Secretary of State has approved a local area agreement and it therefore has effect, the responsible local authority and each partner authority must, when exercising their functions, have regard to every local improvement target within the local area agreement that relates to it. When they sign up to a particular target, they are saying that they agree with the target and that it lies within the scope of their individual remit to contribute to its achievement. In the light of the previous amendment that we discussed on the voluntary sector, that is a good way of putting it. Therefore, charming although it is, the amendment is not necessary. I am grateful to noble Lords.
The difficulty may be that there will be confusion and differences between the local targets that the local health partners may have signed up to on a voluntary basis. They will think that they are the right ones but may find that something different has been imposed by a regional health body. That is where we need clarification. Which target would the local health partner need to follow?
I think that that can be achieved through Clause 115, which states that the responsible local authority must publish a memorandum relating to the LAA and that it must set out all the targets in the LAA, including who has signed up to delivering them. Once that document is in front of the various partners, they should be in no doubt.
It was a common-sense plea that we need to see a draft if we are to make sense of some of the points which we would otherwise pursue on Report. I should have thought that autumn continued beyond October, so I was a bit more worried than my noble friend was when I heard that we will see the draft guidance in the autumn. I do not know whether State Opening defines the seasons.
Although he did not put it this way, my noble friend also referred to a new professional class of officers that will be required to make sense of the interrelationship between these things. I should have thought that he was entirely right about that, and it adds to my concern that we should seek to avoid creating a huge amount of paperwork as opposed to good service, which, after all, is what this should be about. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
209D: Clause 108, page 69, line 34, at end insert “; and
( ) the comprehensive area assessment which shall be phased in to coincide with the commencement date for this Chapter.”
The noble Lord said: The Bill provides for the comprehensive area assessment to come into effect a year after the new local area agreement is initiated. That is surely counterproductive, as the point of the comprehensive area assessment is to provide a performance framework to measure progress of the LAAs.
There has already been much talk about the need for local area agreements to tear free of the bureaucracy that has impeded their success thus far and to focus on delivering tangible benefits to communities. That intention is welcome. I am sure that it is commended unanimously across the Committee this evening. Although the design of the new LAA may be conducive to that goal, an obsolete, heavy-handed performance framework is likely to be cumbersome and impede its successful implementation.
We agree with the LGA’s contention that there will be significant mutually reinforcing advantages in ensuring that the CAA is introduced alongside the LAA in 2008—none more so than the ability to measure the progress of the LAA, which, as the Bill stands, will be introduced the year before. I also declare an interest in that Essex County Council is one of the very last councils to have a CPA, right at the end of 2008. We are offering to be a pilot for the CAA. It makes absolute sense to be a pilot for the CAA rather than being the very last on the CPA. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will have some sympathy for Essex County Council and for the general thrust of the amendment to introduce the new CAA, which I think we would all welcome alongside the LAA. I beg to move.
My admiration for Essex knows no bounds. It is at the leading edge of practically every new initiative. It is a wonderful example.
The CAA will be a crucial piece of local evidence. I hear what the noble Lord said about not wanting anything heavy-handed or clumsy. The whole point of moving away from the comprehensive performance assessment is to settle on a methodology that will cover risk, to ensure that the right things are being inspected and in the right way, and not to overburden authorities. Over the next two years the Audit Commission will work with other inspectorates to develop a detailed methodology for the comprehensive area assessment. I am delighted to know that Essex will be there, with the guidance of the noble Lord.
The aim is to introduce that by April 2009. As we have to trial what will be possible and effective and to ensure security and the right amount of risk, it is not the kind of thing that we can have in place in time for the new-style local area agreements. However desirable that might be, we have to bow to reality and ensure that when it is introduced, it is as good, robust and sensitive as it can be.
It is a very important process. The LAA and the local improvement targets must reflect the analysis. However, they are only one of a number of plans and sources of data that local authorities and partners will wish to consider when looking at their performance. I agree with the noble Lord that we do not want to create a rigid and bureaucratic process that details all sources of evidence in primary legislation or imposes an impossible timetable. It is more appropriate that that link is outlined again in the statutory guidance that will accompany the Bill. I take the point made on the previous amendment about guidance. One of the reasons why we put out the statement of intent was so that noble Lords had some sense of the detail and direction. I hope the Committee found that useful and that the noble Lord will be able to accept that explanation on his amendment.
I thank the Minister for that response. My understanding is that the Audit Commission could be ready for piloting and introducing the CAA in the middle of next year. It seems a bit pointless, right at the end of a much more target-based, detailed process, and when we want to move into the wider partnership basis of a CAA, for those authorities to wait until Christmas next year. I hope that the Minister will look again at the phasing out of the old process and the phasing in of the new one. It seems ridiculous to be doing two at the same time if there is going to be a pilot for the CAA. This is Essex’s point of view. Perhaps the Minister might look at the timing and discuss with the Audit Commission what would be a practical way of doing it next year. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 210 and 210A not moved.]
210B: Clause 108, page 69, line 40, leave out “(including representatives of partner authorities)” and insert “and partner authorities”
The noble Baroness said: Clause 108(4) provides that, before the Secretary of State issues guidance, she or he must consult,
“such representatives of local government (including representatives of partner authorities) and such other persons (if any) as he considers appropriate”.
I could have taken out any of the little groups of words here to enable me to probe what is meant by,
“representatives of local government (including representatives of partner authorities)”.
Some partner authorities are not in local government, so why do they appear to be a subset of local government? The partner authorities are listed in Clause 106, covering a great range of organisations, as we have heard. If they are the organisations listed in Clause 106, can they have representatives? It would be quite difficult to find proper representatives of a historic buildings and monuments committee, Transport for London and a primary care trust, for instance. I am unclear what is in the mind of the Government in this little paragraph. I beg to move.
I hope that I can reassure the noble Baroness, because I think that she has possibly misread Clause 108(4), which is not at all usual for her. She seems to think that the Secretary of State would have to consult representatives of partner authorities only where they were also part of local government; for example, a fire and rescue authority or joint waste authority. In fact, it provides that the Secretary of State must consult both representatives of local government and representatives of partner authorities. It treats partner authorities in exactly the same way as it treats local government, and I assure the noble Baroness that the amendment is unnecessary and the Bill provides what she wants. That is the meaning of that subsection.
I am grateful for that. The provision does refer to,
“such representatives of local government (including representatives of partner authorities)”,
but there we go. I am perfectly willing to believe I have misread it, but I still do not see it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 210C and 210D not moved.]
Clause 108 agreed to.
Clause 109 [Approval of draft local area agreement by Secretary of State]:
211: Clause 109, page 70, line 6, at beginning insert “where, in addition, it has not been prepared under the terms of section 108(2),”
The noble Lord said: I withdrew the amendment from its earlier grouping. Briefly, this clause gives the Secretary of State the power to require local authorities to redraft their LAAs but does not indicate the basis on which this decision may be made. This is a probing amendment to see whether the Government will come clean on what they think the reasons would be, if they do not accept the drafting. I suggest that they have not followed the rules earlier, but there may be other reasons. Given the hour, I am happy for my noble friend to write to me on this matter. I beg to move.
211A: Clause 109, page 70, line 6, at end insert “only in respect of national improvement targets”
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 211A is part of a group of amendments tabled in my name. Their purpose is to lessen the involvement of the Secretary of State with regard to local area agreements by distinguishing between local and national targets and designations. The Secretary of State’s remit allows her the power not only to impose national improvement targets but also locally prescribed targets in each council. This is unsatisfactory for a number of reasons, not least because it contradicts the Government’s devolution ideals.
It is not just the sentiment of the legislation that is worrying, but also the process itself. The Local Government Association suggested that it appears cumbersome and unwieldy and is another quagmire that threatens to undermine the laudable intentions of local area agreements. The process needs to be lean and dynamic, but it must above all be deliverable. For the sake of its credibility and value for money, there must be real substance underpinning the initiative. We strongly endorse national co-operation where there are exceptional circumstances, but the powers in the Bill open the floodgates to micromanagement through the targets culture. It passes control to the Government at the expense of locally elected politicians—a situation with which those of us who have worked in local government are all too familiar.
Without these amendments, the Bill will incorporate yet another example of what local government sees as the mistrust of local authorities: a supposed safety net that stifles innovation and restricts councils in fulfilling their potential. Local area agreements have potential to become highly effective methods of channelling public funds to the areas where they are most needed and to achieve true synergies and co-operation across a number of bodies working together. The Government’s much cited rhetoric could have been embedded throughout the Bill. With these amendments, the opportunity is still there. Without agreeing to this amendment and others like it, the Government cannot be seen to be decentralising power and responsibility. We need to differentiate between the national and the local designation and keep the national to the absolute minimum. I beg to move.
Amendment No. 212BA, which is tabled in my name, is a little gem among this large group of amendments. It probes the Minister on a similar issue: the role of the Secretary of State in altering designated targets. The Bill establishes a procedure through which a local authority is required to go if it wishes to amend a target. I should like to give the Minister the opportunity to explain a little more about how this works because the Bill suggests that it is a pretty cumbersome process. If a local authority needed to amend one of these targets, it could be in for a pretty lengthy procedure. Will she also say how this will be done? Will it be done by the Secretary of State in the form of a government regional office? Will there be any indication of how long it might take to alter one of these targets as I can see that it might end up sitting on someone’s desk for quite some time? Will she also confirm that these provisions apply to the national targets rather than to the locally agreed ones?
This is an important group of amendments because it focuses on the role of the Secretary of State and the degree of power in designating local improvement targets and the balance of power between the responsible authority and partner authority in changing local improvement targets as part of revision proposals. They are clearly two areas of concern.
I will not reiterate everything I said earlier about the making of targets, as I went into that in some detail. All I will say is that we are trying to ensure that all signatories to the agreements, whether it is the Secretary of State, the responsible authority, a named partner, or another voluntary partner, are treated appropriately in the whole process of determining, refining, submitting and revising targets.
We know that the LAA will comprise a series of local improvement targets, which will have been agreed to, and through that process partners around the table will have identified their local priorities and set targets against them. In doing so, they will have identified which local targets are drawn from the core national policy priorities as identified in the national indicator set.
When the draft LAA goes to the Secretary of State, via the government office and has been approved, the Secretary of State on behalf of the Government collectively will formally “designate” those targets which are of key national importance and which will have been drawn from the national indicator set. So it is working from the bottom upwards in an iterative way. As I have said, those designated targets will hardly come as a surprise because people have been looking at the indicator set, looking at their local circumstances and relating the one to the other.
The local improvement targets within the LAA that are not designated remain in the LAA and, vitally, they have equal weight in the agreement; hence the named parties remain under a duty to have regard. They can be amended without the consent of the Secretary of State and will not be reported on to central government. Local improvement targets, which have been signed up to voluntarily by partners who are not named partners in the Bill, are also part of the LAA, but those partners, as we agreed earlier, are not bound by the duty to have regard to the targets.
That is the model and those are our expectations. This group of amendments, therefore, seeks to differentiate from the outset of the LAA negotiation those targets which are of national importance and those which are of purely local interest, and to treat the two sets of targets very differently throughout the process. However, the distinction between national targets and purely local ones will not always be clear cut. Let me explain. They will need to be teased out in negotiation. For example, Sheffield is in the current feasibility testing. It is looking to tackle health inequalities in relation to the 2010 life expectancy target. The target may be one included as one of the national indicator set. That would make sense as life expectancy is a large target. However, Sheffield has already met the national target and, as such, it may not be designated. There is no need for that. As it wants to continue improving health inequalities in the area, it could include a more stretching or demanding target in its LAA as a local improvement target. That is a way of demonstrating that the LAA is a mechanism not just to address areas of poor performance—to catch up—but also to deliver greater local ambition.
Amendment No. 209A, which we discussed in a previous group, has a bearing on Amendment No. 211A. It sought to define national improvement targets as,
“a national target for improvement designated by the Secretary of State in respect of which there shall be a maximum number of 35”.
That amendment and Amendment No. 211A, which would require the Secretary of State to designate national targets only at approval stage, would be unworkable. Amendment No. 209A defines a national target as one that has been designated, while Amendment No. 211A would allow the Secretary of State to designate only a national target; that is, one that has been designated. The process would be circular, and we must be careful not to fall into that sort of trap.
The bulk of the amendments involve the notion of identifying national targets prior to approval. Amendments Nos. 212A to 212C, 212F, 212G, 212J, 212L, 212Q, 212R and 214A seek to distinguish, prior to approval of the LAA, targets of local as opposed to national interest, and would confine the Secretary of State to the national improvement targets. This would mean that local partners would need to specify which targets in the LAA were of national interest, which would remove the power of the Secretary of State to designate any LAA local improvement target. We would expect the distinction between purely local targets and the small number of national priorities to emerge during the negotiation. However, given the importance of LAAs and the fact that this is the only place where the Secretary of State and local authorities will come together to agree on where the national indicators actually relate to what the local authority is trying to do, it is surely important that the Secretary of State retains this discretion as a backstop to ensure that the right national priorities are reflected. We intend to set out in guidance the practical clearance steps for the LAA so that everyone is clear about what the process will look like. The LAA will evolve out of the process of negotiation.
On the revision of targets, the effect of Amendments Nos. 212D, 212H, 212K, 212M, 212N and 212P would be that the Secretary of State could designate only national improvement targets. Local improvement targets would therefore be handled exclusively by local partners, who would be the only parties who could amend, add or remove local targets. This would mean removing the power of the Secretary of State to designate any new local improvement targets as part of a revision proposal. Taking away that function, which the Secretary of State exercises at approval, from the revision procedure would severely limit the flexibility of the LAA to respond to changes in national priorities in the lifetime of an LAA. There may be a critical development in, say, climate change, so obviously there needs to be some flexibility. The local authority may not choose to take on that new target as part of the LAA and may well have to be prompted by Secretary of State to see the significance of any change and how it might be managed locally.
Amendment No. 212BA would remove Clause 112(2), thereby allowing local authorities to change targets outside the revision process and thus removing the Secretary of State’s involvement. To allow targets to be altered much more flexibly not only affects the Secretary of State’s role to designate revised targets but provides for the alteration of designated targets by named partners. Removing this provision would greatly weaken the Secretary of State’s ability to ensure that the LAA responds appropriately to changes of circumstance. Again, we would be back in the situation that I described previously. Amendment No. 212MA is consequential on Amendment No. 212H, which I have already discussed.
Next we come to the balance of power between responsible or partner authorities and targets. The Government agree with the effect that Amendment No. 212E would have. The amendment would allow a local improvement target to be changed or removed with the consent of all partners to which the target relates. I completely agree with that measure, which is why we have already made provision for non-designated targets in Clause 112(4) and (6). Therefore, the noble Lord’s amendment, although admirable in principle, is unnecessary. I reiterate, however, that the situation is different for designated targets because they reflect targets of national importance, so the Secretary of State retains the function to approve any changes made to those targets. That distinction must hold.
Finally, the effect of Amendment No. 212C would be that a responsible local authority could amend or remove a non-designated target only after consulting every person to whom the target related. The local authority would not have to seek the consent of every person as is currently the drafted provision. There is a good reason for providing as we do that undesignated targets can be changed, but only with the consent of each person to whom the target relates and having consulted such other persons. If a target relates to a named partner, it is under a duty to have regard to it. Therefore, it is only reasonable that if a duty is placed on a named partner, that partner authority surely should consent to any change affecting a target for which it is under a duty to have regard to. For example, if a local business or charity voluntarily signs up to a target, it is not under a duty to have regard to it, which is why it needs only to be consulted, but it should not be able to veto change as it is not subject to the same duty to have regard as a named partner.
In Committee, we have talked a lot about balance. In this arrangement between the Secretary of State and the local authority, between the designated targets and the local targets, we have tried to have coherence and a balance of responsibility with the essential impulse driven by the experience and expectations of local authorities. Although this set of amendments and my response are rather complicated, I hope that noble Lords will be satisfied.
I think that the noble Baroness has answered a question that I was going to ask later—so I will not ask it now. As I understand it, locally agreed targets agreed outside the process of setting up an LAA or a revision proposal and agreed just between the partners have to be unanimous. In other words, the partner affected by it can veto it and, if it does that, it does not go ahead. For example, if a county council, which was a responsible authority proposed a change and the district said no, it would not happen, but if it happened as part of a revision proposal and went to the Secretary of State, the requirement for unanimity would not be there. Have I read it correctly?
I am not sure that the noble Lord has or that I quite understand the point. The idea of a negotiated process is that everyone is in agreement and that everyone signs up. But I am told that the noble Lord is not quite right, so I will have to look at that and write to him. It is important to spell that process out.
I am very grateful for that. The Minister seems to think that national indicators will be set to give an idea of the kind of things that might be designated, but not necessarily, in certain circumstances. There will be no involvement of the Secretary of State until the proposal comes in for the local area agreement or for a revision proposal. At that stage the Secretary of State will designate some of the targets which have been set locally. Is that not the case?
We are talking about two processes. When the targets are negotiated with the local authority by the regional office representing the Secretary of State they will have regard to the 200 indicators. We used the example of worklessness, but we could use reducing childhood obesity, which might be sufficiently important across the country for every local authority to have a plan for dealing with it. They will have a very good idea of those designated targets because they will reflect those national priorities.
Those national targets will be formally designated when they go to the Secretary of State, but the whole local area agreement will go to the Secretary of State to be signed off. It will be a formal process because the regional offices will be involved. When there is a revision, the Secretary of State will come into the process. The LAA will request a revision and there will be negotiation about why it is necessary and which of the targets have changed. As I have said, in a national emergency, there would be a new designated target to which all local authorities should have regard. This is all speculative, but the first process is the essential process.
I am most grateful for that response. It explained how discussion and negotiation will work between the responsible authority and the regional office acting on behalf of the Secretary of State, which will be fundamental to the process but is not obvious from simply reading the Bill. That is what I was trying to tease out of the Minister.
I have a question after listening to that exchange. I would like to understand some of the terminology. The phrase “the person to whom the target in question is to relate” has been used a good deal. Am I to understand that that is in fact equivalent to “a person subject to the target”? “Person to whom a target may relate” is potentially very wide but, where consent is required, I suspect that one could not go as wide as that, and that it will be someone who is subject to the target.
I thank the Minister for her usual—I was going to say “urbane”, but I mean “competent”—reply to an enormous number of questions. This is an important area, because we are in some disagreement about how much the Secretary of State should be involved in the whole question of local area agreements and how much she ought to be able to bring national focus into those agreements.
There were a great number of amendments, which shifted slightly in different directions; that is the trouble with a mega-grouping. The Minister kindly replied to all of them. I want to read those replies again and see the exact emphasis, but I must make it clear to the Minister, as I am sure is clear from the amendments, that we are unhappy, even now, about the extent of the role that the Secretary of State will play in local area agreements and the amount of influence that will be wielded in negotiations by the government offices representing the Secretary of State. I feel sure we will come back to this aspect of the Bill in some way, even if not to the same amendments, at the next stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
211B: Clause 109, page 70, line 14, at end insert—
“(4) A decision by the Secretary of State under subsection (1) shall be sent to the responsible authority within three months of the Secretary of State’s receipt of the draft local area agreement.
(5) If the Secretary of State fails to comply with subsection (4), the draft local area agreement shall be deemed to have been approved.”
The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 212QA, which is the same amendment applied to revision agreements. It is a slightly cheeky amendment that seeks to set a limit on the time the Secretary of State has to respond to a draft local area agreement or a revision proposal. If the Secretary of State did not respond in that time, it would be deemed to be approved as submitted.
Everyone in local government is used to circumstances in which local authorities do their very best to stick to timetables and deadlines and to get things done expeditiously, and then the application gets stuck in a department and you have to wait and wait. There seems to be no comeback to that. What specifications will be set? What will the timescale be for approving a local area agreement or a revision proposal once it has been submitted? An enormous amount of time and effort is going to go into these things. Whether this is a sensible way to do it or not can be debated but, once they have been agreed, people will want to get on with them and put them into practice. If the agreements get stuck in the department for months and do not come out, that will not do anyone any good. I look forward to the Minister’s reply. I beg to move.
The noble Lord has raised an important point. For the new statutory LAAs to work, there is no doubt that everybody must act in an appropriate and timely fashion. Without a clear understanding of timings, there is the potential for delay and agreements could become out of date. We intend to put the timetable for clearance expected of central government into guidance. That is probably better than putting it in the Bill. We will show how that can be arrived at through partnership. We will also make sure that all the partners are on board when those expectations for timing are set. That will include the behaviour that is expected of central government as well.
That is all that I can commit to on the record. I cannot give the noble Lord any details of the timetable other than the one month that is specified in the Bill for the designation of targets. However, I acknowledge what he said. We will certainly think about the timetable. If it is in guidance, we will have some flexibility to get it right.
I shall give the Minister six and a half out of 10 for that, which is probably a pass. Guidance is better than nothing. It would be nice to know what it is going to say. We will look forward to that with interest. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 109 agreed to.
Clause 110 [Duty to have regard to local improvement targets]:
[Amendments Nos. 211C and 212 not moved.]
212ZA: Clause 110, page 70, line 20, at end insert “but, where such a target is in conflict with a policy set out in an statutory plan or strategy adopted by a local authority, the policy in the plan or strategy shall prevail”
The noble Lord said: This amendment states that if a statutory plan or strategy is adopted by a local authority which conflicts with a local area agreement, the statutory plan or strategy should prevail. It is a probing amendment. The Minister will no doubt say that the conflict to which it refers will never occur, but because there are different processes producing different plans and strategies, I doubt that that is the case.
The Minister was kind enough to supply me, when I asked a Question on the subject, with a long list of plans and strategies which local authorities were bound by law to produce. I was going to read it out this evening, but in view of the time I shall not do so—the details are in any case set out in her Written Answer in Hansard. I was grateful for that information. It was revealing. My guess is that it was not comprehensive in terms of plans and strategies which may not be in legislation but are in statutory guidance and so on that is sent out to local authorities. There are probably more than she says. Certainly, in the authorities that I know, they add up to a large pile on the shelf. What happens if there is a conflict? I beg to move.
It is unlikely that there would be a conflict. It is rather counterproductive to have a conflict in a local area agreement. We are clear that the LAA targets must be derived from the priorities identified in the sustainable communities strategy. That is agreed as the overarching plan only when everybody has agreed what that community needs to sustain itself economically and so on. Local authorities have the opportunity to set out in that strategy the agenda that they believe the area should follow. There is no implication that the commitments which the local authorities have publicly made can be ignored or negated by the process.
The whole point about the scope of the new performance framework is that it covers everything that the local authority does on its own or in partnership with others. Certainly, central government are not going to be involved in any targets other than the designated ones; that is the only place where the two bits of government will meet. That does not mean that local authorities cannot have their own additional targets, plans or strategies, but central government will not be involved in agreeing them. I would not want to say that this will never happen but, given the fact that these agreements will be the product of so much prehistory and sustained relationships, those sorts of issues will have to be resolved before they come forward. There will be things that people will not be able to agree about and I am sure that they will not end up being identified as targets because, by definition, deliverability will be an issue in such instances.
I know that the noble Lord is speaking from experience but, with these caveats in place, I hope that we can be fairly optimistic about this.
I am always happy to be optimistic but it does not always work out like that. If the Minister thinks that there will not be conflicts and difficulties, she is not necessarily observing the real world that we will see—but we will see it in practice.
Local authorities nowadays possess great big piles of strategies, plans and all sorts of things and employ loads of people to produce them. Ten or 15 years ago, most of these did not exist, but are the authorities that much better as a result of having all these strategies and plans? I would hope that as a result of local area agreements, if this system comes in and is found to be practical and works, the Government may find that as part of the letting go process to which the Minister referred on our first day in Committee most of these other strategies and plans could be done away with. In my experience, a large number of them are produced in many authorities; they go through the inspections, get the ticks and the rest of it and are then put on shelves and brought out again the next time they have to be revised. Meanwhile, everyone gets on with providing the services and making the investment that everyone was going to do anyway. A lot of people in local authorities are being employed on non-productive work at the moment when they could be redeployed on frontline services, producing things. My fear about local area agreements is that they will make the situation worse.
I have one final anecdote. When I got back on a local authority three years ago, I was aware of all these things and asked for a copy of them all. I was asked whether I really wanted them because it would be an inordinate use of the council’s resources for someone to go around and find them all. We have improved a bit in the past three years and that is no longer the case—or I hope not—but there is a serious problem. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
212ZB: Clause 110, page 70, line 20, at end insert—
“( ) Nothing in this section shall negate the right of elected councillors to have regard to the policies they placed before the electors prior to their election.”
The noble Lord said: This may be another cheeky amendment, because it is an attempt to reinstate the importance of democracy. Local authorities are democratically elected bodies and people who get elected to them, even nowadays, do so on the basis of wanting to do things and put through policies. The problem is that when they are elected they find that all these strategies are in place—and in future we will have the local area agreement in place, which will last for three years. It is almost impossible to change anything. One councillor getting elected would never change the world overnight with his ideas, but when there are electoral contests between different parties on different programmes and ideas, and there is a change of control, people expect to see some change.
The more that local authorities are tied in to the kind of thing implied by local area agreements, which are statutory documents that can be changed only by long drawn-out statutory processes and which then require the agreement of the Secretary of State, it is very difficult to see the purpose of having local elections any more. The real problem is that people stop fighting local elections on policies. It does not matter who gets in—the policies remain the same because they are all embedded and you cannot change them. It is therefore done simply on personalities. As we have seen with some mayoral contests, that produces some odd results. It is happening more and more at local level. It is all done on the basis of personalities. It is increasingly done on the basis of negative campaigning by all the parties, and I am not making political points here at all. That is what is happening in the system. You get elected but find that, whatever you said and whatever you got elected to do, you cannot do much about it except as part of a very slow and long-drawn-out process. It is a negation of democracy.
This amendment is just a gesture of defiance on behalf of old-fashioned local elections where people got elected, knew what they got elected for and, within the next few months, stuck up their hands and voted for something different. You cannot do that any more and it is a real shame. The more we dismantle this incredibly complex and bureaucratic system which is enveloping and engulfing local government, the better it will be. I move a vote of defiance on behalf of local democracy. I beg to move.
I am very happy to join the noble Lord in his gesture of defiance; I am passionately in favour of local democracy and think that that is what local area agreements are about—not least the democracy of partnership which will require people to work together in ways at which they have not succeeded in the past, for the good of the local community. It seems nothing but more likely that, once those priorities and the needs of local premium are properly articulated, people coming forward for election will have a very clear idea of their duty. Nothing will take away the independent voice of the local councillor. Elected councillors do not by themselves come under the scope of the duty to have regard to LAA targets. We will always have people such as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in local government and they will always be a defiant and important voice. Although we hope that they will subscribe and support LAA targets, the council’s role will go far beyond that. I recognise the defiance and think that that is echoed round the Committee.
Could the noble Baroness say what would be the position of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, or someone else elected to a council if there was new political control in an authority and they really did not agree with the agreed targets? The targets may not match their political priorities and may not even match their manifesto commitments. Would there be enough of a process for them to do what they were elected to do and change the direction of the council?
As for the social targets that will be negotiated, it is hard to think of a political party that would be for worklessness or childhood obesity. Those targets should stand above party politics because they are in the national interest, and the national interest serves the nation. Most of those targets will be self-evidently important and important locally. If the situation which the noble Baroness describes should come about, there would be an opportunity to revise the targets. Certainly the local targets can be revised at any time at all without reference to the Secretary of State.
The targets will reflect priorities. Of course nobody will be for worklessness; the issue is how you place the different concerns against one another as well as separately in their own little pigeon holes. That is what politics is so much about—the comparisons and priorities. My noble friends have raised extremely important questions. We have talked before on this Bill about the importance of encouraging people to come into local government and our related structural concerns. If they feel that they cannot affect priorities, that is another disincentive to getting involved and stuck in politically as distinct from, for instance, through a special interest organisation.
I reiterate that these arrangements give added purpose and focus to local politics because the local area agreement visualises what the local area is about and why it is important. But the noble Baroness is absolutely right that if a new set of councillors with different preoccupations and priorities is elected, politics is the language of priorities, in the famous words. They may well seek to have different local priorities and may well feel that anti-social behaviour is a higher priority than something which another party might have elevated above that. Clearly, this will be a matter for local discretion; that is what devolution is about.
It does not feel very much like that in local government at the moment. It is right to say that things can be done but we have to do them almost by getting round the system and operating it—I do not want to say fiddle the system—in ways that were not necessarily intended, and it is not easy.
I ought to respond to the suggestion that there are “lots of people like Lord Greaves in local government”. I assure the Minister that I do not think there are, for good or ill. No doubt she is pleased that there are not very many of us here either, especially at half past 10 on a Committee night. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 110 agreed to.
Clause 111 [Designated targets]:
[Amendments Nos. 212A and 212B not moved.]
Clause 111 agreed to.
Clause 112 [Revision and addition of targets]:
[Amendments Nos. 212BA to 212E not moved.]
Clause 112 agreed to.
Clause 113 [Designated targets: revision proposals]:
[Amendments Nos. 212EA to 212P not moved.]
Clause 113 agreed to.
Clause 114 [Approval of revision proposal]:
[Amendments Nos. 212Q and 212QA not moved.]
Clause 114 agreed to.
Clause 115 [Duty to publish information about local area agreement]:
[Amendment No. 212R not moved.]
Clause 115 agreed to.
Clause 116 [Preparation of community strategy]:
[Amendment No. 212RA not moved.]
212RB: Clause 116, page 73, line 29, at end insert—
“(4) In determining whether or how to exercise the power conferred by section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000 a local authority shall have regard to climate change and the consequences of climate change.”
The noble Baroness said: I was going to say that this will reassure those in the Public Gallery who think that we do not do any work, but they have gone. Nevertheless, given the time, it is important that we deal with the next few amendments in a measured fashion.
In the Local Government Act 2000, local authorities are given what is almost a power of general competence, which can be broken down into having the power to do anything they consider likely to promote or improve the economic, social or environmental well-being of their area. My amendment would require local authorities to have regard to climate change and its consequences.
The fact that the Greater London Authority Bill, which is coming towards its close, deals specifically with climate change and imposes on the GLA a duty to have regard to these matters made me think that, if it is required for London, it should probably be required of all local authorities. I know that this provision found its way into the GLA Bill part way through its passage, but there are good reasons for that. Concern about climate change, both how to mitigate it and how to deal with its effects, has moved rapidly up the public agenda. Those issues were on the horizon in 2000 and are firmly in view now. This would be quite a substantial provision, but I thought it right to use the Bill to raise the matter at this point. I am sorry that it has come so late in the day, but this seemed to be the part in which to raise it. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness is absolutely right to say that this is an important matter, and it is rather nice to have the memory of the GLA Bill raised at this point. We made it clear in the local government White Paper that councils would have a pivotal role to play in achieving sustainable development and mitigating and adapting to climate change. Indeed, it is a great pleasure to see how many local authorities are doing so, with places such as Nottingham at the forefront. I am completely sympathetic to the aims of the amendment, but I do not think we can privilege any policy, however worthy, above others in the well-being power framework, because it would distort its purpose. Further, it would invite a range of other amendments from those who felt equally strongly about other issues. It would not add anything to the current legislation.
Section 3 of the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006 already places a duty on local authorities when exercising their functions to have regard to reports published by the Secretary of State on ways in which they might improve energy efficiency, increase microgeneration, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, alleviate fuel poverty and so on. At this moment, the new Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is consulting on the shape that report will take, but it is anticipated that it will set out steps that local authorities can take to do all those things through land-use planning, building control, transport and waste management, housing and so forth, particularly in improving energy efficiency. Things are happening fast in this area, and a whole range of actions will help local authorities to take forward these issues.
With that information, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
It would wake some people up if I did not do so. I realise that the current Climate Change Bill will deal with these matters, but I do not agree that this should not be dealt with on its own. However, I shall not develop the argument at this point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 116 agreed to.
Clause 117 [Orders under Part 1 of Local Government Act 2000: Wales]:
213: Clause 117, page 74, line 14, after “England”;” insert—
“( ) in subsection (2)(a) and (b), after “authorities” insert “in England”;( ) in subsection (2)(c), after “authority” insert “in England”;”
The noble Baroness said: Clause 117 amends Part 1 of the Local Government Act 2000, which is concerned with the promotion of social, economic or environmental well-being. Sections 6 and 7 of the 2000 Act will, as amended by Clause 117, confer on Welsh Ministers equivalent powers to the Secretary of State to amend any enactment that requires a local authority to prepare a plan or strategy. However, as the Bill is drafted, when exercising these powers the Secretary of State must follow the super-affirmative procedure but Welsh Ministers need follow only the affirmative procedure. Amendment No. 214 will correct that anomaly so that Welsh Ministers must also follow the super-affirmative procedure. I am grateful to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for drawing that unintended anomaly to the attention of the Committee.
Amendment No. 213 is an improving amendment. Section 6 of the 2000 Act provides that the Secretary of State can, by order, amend, repeal, revoke or disapply any enactment which requires a local authority to prepare, produce or publish any plan or strategy. Clause 117 confines the Secretary of State’s powers to England, with the equivalent powers conferred on Welsh Ministers in respect of Wales. The amendment further clarifies the extent of the Secretary of State’s powers in Section 6 of the 2000 Act. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
214: Clause 117, page 75, line 7, at end insert—
“( ) After section 9 insert—
“9A Procedure for orders under section 7
(1) Before the Welsh Ministers make an order under section 7 they must consult—
(a) such local authorities in Wales,(b) such representatives of local government in Wales, and(c) such other persons (if any),as appear to them to be likely to be affected by their proposals.(2) If, following consultation under subsection (1), the Welsh Ministers propose to make an order under section 7 they must lay before the National Assembly for Wales a document which—
(a) explains their proposals,(b) sets them out in the form of a draft order, and(c) gives details of consultation under subsection (1).(3) Where a document relating to proposals is laid before the National Assembly for Wales under subsection (2), no draft of an order under section 7 to give effect to the proposals (with or without modifications) is to be laid before the National Assembly for Wales until after the expiry of the period of sixty days beginning with the day on which the document was laid.
(4) In calculating the period mentioned in subsection (3) no account is to be taken of any time during which the National Assembly is dissolved or is in recess for more than four days.
(5) In preparing a draft order under section 7 the Welsh Ministers must consider any representations made during the period mentioned in subsection (3).
(6) A draft order under section 7 which is laid before the National Assembly for Wales must be accompanied by a statement of the Welsh Ministers giving details of—
(a) any representations considered in accordance with subsection (5), and(b) any changes made to the proposals contained in the document laid before the National Assembly for Wales under subsection (2). (7) Nothing in this section applies to an order under section 7 which is made only for the purpose of amending an earlier order under that section—
(a) so as to extend the earlier order, or any provision of the earlier order, to a particular authority or to authorities of a particular description, or(b) so that the earlier order, or any provision of the earlier order, ceases to apply to a particular authority or to authorities of a particular description.”.”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 117, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 118 [Health and social care: joint strategic needs assessments]:
214ZA: Clause 118, page 75, line 10, at end insert—
“( ) If a responsible local authority includes two or more PCTs, subsection (1) applies separately to the area of each of them.”
The noble Lord said: Subsection (5) of Clause 118 states:
“The responsible local authority must publish each assessment of relevant needs prepared under this section in relation to its area”.
The amendment probes what happens in large authorities—I return to the theme of large authorities and how local area agreements will be carried out within them—where there is more than one primary care trust. Will there be one needs assessment for the whole area or separate ones for each PCT area? How will it work? I beg to move.
The other amendment in this group stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Scott. It would provide that the Secretary of State should publish comments on each assessment of relevant needs and on the funding to meet them. I was prompted to table this amendment, not because I have any doubt that working together is a good thing—indeed, co-operation between the social services, other parts of local authorities and the health services is hugely important to the clients—but because of the “cost shunting”, which I think is the term used, by the health services on to local government. Colleagues currently serving in local government tell me that this exercises them very much and has become a big problem, particularly recently. The amendment would not address it, but at least it will bring the issue into the light of day. I feel it is important to raise it.
As noble Lords will know by now, we are trying to drive coherence across an area, and that coherence will obviously involve health and social care as well as all the other things that local authorities do. It is very important that there is one joint strategic needs assessment. That is new, and it is extremely important that it is there, with all the PCTs joined, if there is more than one PCT in an area. The suggestion that somehow each PCT should negotiate separately would completely undermine the purpose of that. The PCTs in a local authority’s geographical boundaries will feed into the same joint strategic needs assessment, and that will help to identify the health and well-being needs of the whole area.
The second amendment in the group is essentially counter to the devolutionary thrust of the Bill in two respects, although I appreciate why noble Lords have tabled it. First, Amendment No. 214ZB would require the Secretary of State to publish and comment on the needs of the local population identified by the joint needs assessment. Obviously, that is not appropriate, since this will be locally owned, locally driven and locally designed. Secondly, in terms of resources, it follows that it is for the local authority and its partners to agree on how they wish to use the resources available to them. That is what local authorities should do, and that is how they will translate the findings that come out of the strategic needs assessment into targets and how the targets are going to be delivered. The whole thing does hang together. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
That was a more disappointing answer than the last one that I got on diversity, but I will read Hansard carefully. I do not want to continue the debate tonight, except to say that PCTs are interested in their own areas, and it is not clear to me whether they will have to come together before they negotiate with the wider authority. The noble Baroness said that she did not want them to negotiate separately. I am not sure about “separately”, but each PCT will want to negotiate on behalf of its own area, and it will not be interested in another area on the other side of a far-flung county, perhaps 50 miles away. There is thought to be had there but, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 214ZB not moved.]
Clause 118 agreed to.
Clause 119 [Interpretation of Chapter]:
[Amendment No. 214A not moved.]
Clause 119 agreed to.
Clause 120 agreed to.