Committee (6th Day)
If there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.
Clause 63 : Local authority economic assessment
160D: Clause 63, page 42, line 8, leave out “must” and insert “may”
In moving Amendment 160D, I shall speak to my other amendments in this group. In presenting the amendments, I shall give a general introduction to the situation as we see it.
When the Government first raised the idea of a sub-national review, most of us welcomed it. When the initial discussions were going on, it seemed that the Government were devolving powers from the RDAs to more local systems, which is certainly preferable. But now we see the proof of the pudding in the legislation. As we have discussed over the past few days, so much is set by the Secretary of State. We are now going through a series of amendments and discussions where the Secretary of State has this or that power and there is not much localism in it at all. It is even further away from local government than we are now. That will come out in a lot of the amendments proposed to this clause.
I have been involved in several pieces of related legislation as they have gone through this House, as have most of my colleagues on this side. I think that the Minister has not been involved for so long, as most of the earlier legislation was taken through the House by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. We had many discussions about a lot of this. I was never very keen on the RDAs when they were set up. The legislation that set them up also created the regional assemblies to scrutinise them. That has not really worked at all. Since then, the regional assemblies have been given different powers of their own and will do different things. They have never been an effective scrutiny committee for the RDAs. Some RDAs work better than others, when there is a grouping of authorities that work together anyway. The RDA that I know in the eastern region has not really worked at all. That is nothing against the individuals, but it has been a grouping of authorities that do not have very much in common, and it has not achieved very much at all. In fact, it has been a big waste of money, and the money could have been much better spent at a local level.
I hoped when we saw a sub-national review that we were going to get some sense of it. I do not like to keep quoting Essex, but obviously I know it very well. The county that I am leader of has Thames Gateway, which relates to London and Kent, which is in the south-east region. We have Haven Gateway. At least we are in the same region, but it is across two counties of Suffolk and Essex. They are the sort of things that make sense. It would have been much better to have given more autonomy and more help to things like that, than it would to give it to this legislation.
As the Minister knows, I am a great supporter of LAAs—they work well in my county—and I am now a great supporter of MAAs. Much of the future could have been in MAAs instead of setting up the machinery which the Government are going to set up. This series of amendments from me probes what the Government expect to get out of this. We all carry out economic assessments now; we ought to do so. Any large authority does work on them, and I do not see much point in making them statutory. On the other hand, I am not that against making them statutory, because we are all doing quite a lot of work, particularly in the current situation, to support the economy in our own area. That is often done very much better at a local level than through a wider body such as an RDA.
However, we see from the Government’s suggestions that the economic assessments will not even feed into the regional strategy, which I simply do not understand. It is complete nonsense that an Essex strategy carried out in conjunction with our two unitaries or our two Gateway areas has no power to feed into the regional strategy. The Government do not describe what an area is or say whether it is small or big. Obviously a county such as Essex would work with the areas that I have just talked about. I am sure that we will have a lot of debate about what the Government expect from these economic assessments and who will participate in them. Will they be directed by the Secretary of State, which I would be totally against, or will they come up from local initiatives, which is what happens in my county now and is much more powerful and important, particularly at this time and when the recession is likely to go on for some time? This is also true of times of prosperity. We know locally what we want, so we should be able to help and get on with it. If we are going to have regional strategies, we should be able to feed our bit into them.
The thing that has been set up now does not work at all. I am not talking about housing numbers; we can talk about that later. During consideration of the planning legislation some three years ago, I said that we would revisit the subject because I never thought that the RDAs would deliver houses, and we are revisiting it because the RDAs did not deliver them before this legislation: not that anyone is delivering houses at the moment because of the recession.
We will have a whole series of debates and questions about this. As I said, these amendments are probing, and are designed to hear what the Government have to say at the initial part of this discussion. I beg to move.
We on these Benches have three amendments in this group. I do not want to detain the Committee by making a Second Reading speech, but I will put on the record a comment that I made in response to the suggested groupings that we received on Friday; there were so many amendments and such long groupings because all this amounts to the fact that we really do not like this.
My Amendment 160E deals with subsequent parts of the Bill that we like even less than the economic assessment provisions, and would provide that the local authorities should prepare assessments in accordance with their own criteria. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has used the term “autonomy”, which is the first word that I wrote down in my notes on this amendment. The assessment should not be top down. Most authorities, after all, do not need to be told that they need to assess the economic situation of their own area. The two clauses in this part of the Bill do not explain the purpose of economic assessments. It is common sense that one would carry them out. In many different ways, they provide for the Secretary of State to direct the process, so central government will tell local authorities what to do but not why.
Amendment 160F would provide that,
“In preparing the assessment, the authority shall have regard to social and environmental matters”.
We are really concerned that the economic focus of the previous three or four parts of the Bill will undermine, and possibly even edge on driving out, the other facets of sustainable development. The three facets—social and environmental as well as economic—together with other matters which are perhaps of a second order rank but which are now generally accepted as going along with them, such as the sensible use of science, should be inseparable. I accept that economic and environmental issues may need to be balanced but they should all remain within the same part of the consideration. They cannot be separated in practice anyway because, for instance, economic problems may well lead to an increase in social needs. To focus so rigidly on economic matters carries with it very great danger.
My Amendment 161A is consequential on the other two amendments. We support the Conservatives’ Amendments 160D and 161. I do not see the point or the necessity for these clauses. That would not matter except that central Government are requiring local authorities to carry out yet another function, and will probably require them to do it a bit differently from the way it has been done—this is not a new point on the Bill—which will result in a waste of resources, officer time, member time and money.
I very much go along with what the two previous speakers have said. I have tabled Amendment 160G in this group. I also oppose the Question that Clause 63 stand part of the Bill in order to ask one or two fairly fundamental questions, some of which were touched on by my noble friend. Amendment 160G questions whether, in making this economic assessment, local authorities really are starting from scratch and with an empty sheet, and whether many of them have not already met the requirements of the clause. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, suggested that Essex had spent a lot of time carrying out an economic assessment, conducting a survey of its area for the purposes of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, which we discussed not long ago, and collecting wider economic information. There is a real danger that setting out a whole series of detailed requirements on how a council has to go about collecting this information will result in duplication and with no new information being collected that would not have been collected anyway. A lot of time and energy could be taken up unnecessarily. Therefore, Amendment 160G says that the duty to carry out the economic assessment,
“is fulfilled if, on the day this section commences—
(a) such an assessment has been prepared within the previous five years by the principal local authority, another principal local authority, a partner authority, any other appropriate body, or a combination of any of these”.
In other words, if the information that is being sought already exists and there are great piles of paper with it all written down and many sites on the council’s computers are storing it, probably rather more tidily, it is ridiculous for a local authority to have to start again and collect it from scratch under this part of the Bill.
The second part suggests that it does not all have to be done at once, but in stages for different areas. It may be that work is required only on certain parts of a large unitary or county authority, perhaps because of a particular problem such as declining industry, unemployment or other economic problems and opportunities. There might be an opportunity to make improvements to the transport infrastructure which leads to the possibility for development and thus economic progress. That is common sense.
As regards whether Clause 63 should stand part of the Bill, like the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and my noble friend, I question whether there is any lack of information. In relation to Part 4, the Briefing Pack for Peers dated 5 December last states:
“Local authorities are to have a well-informed, robust assessment of economic conditions to inform local and regional strategies”.
The argument is that in many cases they will already have it. The briefing goes on to say:
“Although some local authorities take their economic role very seriously and have made real progress, evidence shows that the quality, depth and scope of local economic assessments vary considerably”.
We know, of course, that local variation is something this Government do not like. It continues:
“The failure of some authorities to develop a robust, accurate economic evidence base has hampered their development of coherent economic strategies”.
Before we are satisfied that this clause is needed, which at the moment we do not think it is, what is the evidence that the failure of some authorities to do this has hampered their development of coherent economic strategies? Which authorities does it concern? Are we going to have some authorities named and shamed, or is it more a general view that, “Well, there’s too much variation. Everything is being done in different ways. We don’t like it and we want to set out detailed rules and regulations”?
Will carrying out all this extra work, in many cases duplicated work, change anything on the ground? Will it change policies or will it be just another way to produce a series of big fat reports that gather dust on the shelves until they have to be revised? My next question is this: what is the purpose of local elections if everything has to be controlled from above in the technocratic way implied by these provisions? Lastly, do the Government have any idea of what sort of document they are talking about? How big should it be? The impact assessment sets out how much it will or will not cost to produce, and as usual I have tried to understand it, but I cannot. Essentially, though, the Government are saying that it will not cost much, if anything. I have no feeling for what kind of document is envisaged. Should it be a 10-page report, one of 50 pages or of 2,000 pages giving a detailed economic assessment of a widespread county like Lancashire, or a big city such as Manchester or Liverpool? I hope that we can be given answers to these questions.
Amendment No. 160D, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, but introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, would effectively take away the requirement for principal authorities to assess the economic conditions of their area. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has also given notice of his intention to oppose the Question that Clause 63 shall stand part of the Bill.
Before I address this amendment and the others in the group, it might help if I explain specifically why we believe that a duty should be placed on local authorities. I shall restrict my comments to the economic duty in Clauses 63 and 64, and the wider issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, about the RDAs will be addressed by my noble friend in later amendments.
In July 2007, we published our review of sub-national economic development and regeneration. This was a joint Treasury, DTI and CLG review that looked at how regions and localities can respond more effectively to future economic challenges. This review concluded that there are considerable opportunities for local authorities to play a stronger role in economic development and regeneration. It added that as local place-shapers, authorities are well placed to lead and facilitate the delivery of economic growth and regeneration.
To increase its focus on economic development, the review concluded that all county councils and unitary authorities should have a new duty to assess the economic circumstances of their area. Such a duty would help local authorities and their partners to work more effectively, supported by a comprehensive and robust economic evidence base. The review proposed that local economic assessments should form part of the evidence base for the sustainable community strategy, local area agreements and the regional strategy.
In March last year we consulted on the key proposals set out in the SNR, including the local economic assessment duty. The consultation revealed broad support for the duty across all sectors, including local government and business. Local government welcomed the duty as a helpful addition to local authority functions. It sees it as vital in underpinning a much stronger role for councils and groups of councils working together at a sub-regional level in economic development. The proposed duty would help to ensure that all local authorities have a clear understanding of the conditions required for business to flourish in their area and for people to take advantage of economic opportunities. It will also help to ensure that all future economic and regeneration interventions by local authorities and their partners are informed by a thorough and robust assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of their area. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that that duty is particularly important in the current economic climate.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, of course, many local authorities already carry out local economic assessments and the duty would build on existing good practice. But we believe that it is important that all areas should be covered by an economic assessment and that they should be done to a high standard. Our own research—Review of Economic Assessment and Strategy Activity at the Local and Sub-regional Level, undertaken in March 2008—clearly shows that local assessments vary considerably in quality and are often limited in extent. That research also shows that local strategies are not always underpinned by a strong evidence base. The proposed new duty would help to ensure that local authorities deliver high quality assessments.
As noble Lords may be aware, we have published a policy statement entitled Local Economic Assessments—Policy Statement. This sets out how we believe local economic assessments should be taken forward and the principles that should shape them. We have worked closely with a number of stakeholders in putting together this policy statement, including local government representatives, the RDAs, regional observatories and the Improvement and Development Agency. As the statement makes clear, we believe that local authorities should determine for themselves how best to carry out their assessment. After all they know their economy best. However, we also believe that there are some core principles that should be common to all assessments if local authorities are to get a comprehensive picture of the economic conditions of their area. Our intention is to include these principles in guidance.
For instance, we believe that the assessments should have a strong spatial focus and identify economic conditions at all spatial levels. Assessments should, wherever possible, mirror functional economic areas. Where economic areas transcend administrative boundaries, local authorities should undertake joint assessments. We also believe that assessments should review the regeneration challenges of their area. In that context they should improve understanding of how economic development can support regeneration priorities.
It is not our intention to prescribe what data and methodologies local authorities should use. However, given that the new assessments should feed into sustainable community strategies, LAAs, local development frameworks and the single regional strategy and that they will inevitably be a factor in the development of sub-regional arrangements between neighbouring authorities, there needs to be some consistency in the scope and use of data and methodology across each region. This is more likely to be achieved if local authorities and regional partners work together to agree a framework for taking forward the assessments by making the best use of the knowledge and expertise held across the region.
We continue to work closely with the local government sector in helping local authorities to prepare for the new duty. The Improvement and Development Agency is putting together a sector-led package of support and guidance on local economic assessments, funded through the planning advisory service. Partnerships are organising a series of regional events for local authorities and other regional partners to explore how collectively they can make best use of knowledge and expertise. The events that have taken place so far have been particularly well attended and there is already a good deal of enthusiasm among local authorities for getting to grips with the new duty.
This evidence will complement our own guidance and build on the messages that we set out. I hope that the context that I have set out has been helpful and that Members of the Committee will agree that Clause 63 should stand part of the Bill and the amendment should be rejected.
Amendment 161 would take away the requirement for principal local authorities to revise an assessment, or any part of it, if the Secretary of State directs. I assure Members of the Committee that the power to direct a local authority to revise its assessment, or any part of it, is not something that the Secretary of State would use lightly. We fully expect most local authorities to ensure that their assessments are current and fit for purpose. For example, there is much to be gained from keeping up to date. So the power of direction is merely there as a safeguard.
On Amendments 164 and 160E, Amendment 164 would take away the requirement for principle local authorities to have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State; and Amendment 160E would enable principal local authorities to prepare an economic assessment in accordance with their own criteria. The Members of the Committee who have tabled these amendments believe that local authorities should decide for themselves the criteria for taking forward the economic assessments. I can assure them that our aim is to publish only light-touch guidance that helps local authorities to make best use of the opportunities presented by the duty and provides the level of consistency needed.
As I explained earlier, some common principles should apply to all assessments. We do not think it unreasonable to ask authorities to have regard to these in developing their assessments. For example, our aim would be to help local authorities by clarifying how the new duty links up with other duties and responsibilities, such as the sustainable community strategy, LAAs and the local development framework. It would also explain how the assessments fit in with the proposed regional strategy.
We should not forget that, as we have discussed before, to “have regard” means just that. Of course local authorities must consider the issues raised in the guidance, but that does not mean that they must slavishly adhere to them if they have good reasons not to. This strikes the best balance between having restrictive government direction and leaving local authorities to go off and do whatever they wish in undertaking their assessment. Indeed, many local authority practitioners welcome government guidance, as they believe it will help them to prepare for the new duty. Of course, as always, we would consult widely on draft guidance before issuing it in final form. Although we expect local variation and welcome both it and innovation, we also expect this to be within a framework, set out in guidance that ensures that the assessments achieve the aims that I have outlined.
Amendment 160F, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, would require a principal local authority to have regard to social and environmental issues in preparing its economic assessment. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, expressed her concerns that the new duty would possibly give too great a prominence to economic issues at the expense of social and environmental matters. Again, I reassure Members of the Committee that this is absolutely not the case. As the local economic assessments policy statement makes clear, local economic assessments should contribute to the overall aim of delivering sustainable development. Ultimately, the assessments should inform the sustainable community strategy, which should set out the long-term vision for the economic, social and environmental well-being of a local area.
We believe that the assessments should, among other things, address the social factors that impede economic growth and the causes of labour market exclusion. So the evidence gained through the assessments should also support the Government’s broad aims of tackling barriers to economic growth, creating accessible jobs and giving people the skills to progress, and empowering communities.
The policy statement also encourages local authorities to consider the impact of local economic development on the environment, and how the local economy will be affected by the transition to a low-carbon economy. On top of this, local authorities already undertake a number of other surveys and assessments that would have a bearing on social and environmental issues. It is important that there is interaction between the economic assessment and these other assessments, a point that we make in our policy statement.
Our view is that any thorough assessment will give sufficient prominence to social and environmental issues. The issues raised by this amendment are best addressed through guidance. Any guidance issued by the Secretary of State would indeed stress the need for local authorities to have due regard to social and environmental matters. Placing the matters that should be addressed in assessments in the Bill would, in our view, unnecessarily constrain local authorities. It would also be more difficult for us to respond to changing economic circumstances and changing priorities as any change to the elements that should be included in any assessment would require a further Bill. For example, priorities during an economic upturn may be very different from the priorities in a recession.
Amendment 160G, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, seeks to ensure that a principal local authority would not need to carry out a new assessment if such an assessment had been prepared within the previous five years by it or even by another body and the principal local authority believes that the assessment meets the general purposes of this clause. Understandably, the noble Lord seeks to ensure that that previous work does not go to waste, which is commendable.
The important point is that an assessment is fit for purpose and gives an accurate and up-to-date assessment of local economic conditions. This is a point we stress in our policy paper. Therefore, we do not believe it is appropriate to place an arbitrary cut-off point in the Bill, and certainly not one of five years. I doubt very much that an assessment carried out five years ago would fit the bill, given the economic changes that will have occurred in that time. As our policy statement states, a principal local authority that has already carried out an assessment prior to this duty coming into force will need to consider it in the light of the new duty and any government guidance. While it may need to make some changes and will need to ensure that it meets its obligations to consult, the work it has already done will not go to waste.
The noble Lord also proposes that a principal authority should be able to prepare the assessment for different parts of the area covered by the assessment at different times. We do not agree that local authorities should prepare the initial assessment for different parts of the principal local authority’s area at different times. The aim of an assessment is to get a comprehensive and holistic picture of the current economic conditions of the local economy. If local authorities were encouraged to assess different parts of the area covered at different times, they would not be able to get that holistic picture. You could have the situation where different parts of the area covered would be assessed against inconsistent data sets. However, authorities may revise the assessment or part of it at any time. This allows sufficient flexibility to ensure changes that in local circumstances can be taken into account.
I hope that these assurances address the Committee’s concerns and that Members will understand why I do not think these amendments are necessary. I also ask that Clause 63 stand part of the Bill.
I should like to ask two questions, having drawn a number of conclusions; namely, that there is to be a duty because a few local authorities are not undertaking assessments and that local authorities should decide for themselves how to do it, provided the Secretary of State agrees. On the second point, I would ask the Government, as I have asked every Government in office since I joined your Lordships' House, how they would feel if the Secretary of State were not from their own party but was someone whom they might regard as less benign. I have also drawn the conclusion that the comments about acknowledging the social and environmental aspects of sustainable development might jeopardise the economic matters at difficult economic times, which makes my point for me.
Will the Government confirm that all this is within the powers of local authorities and that it is within the power of the Secretary of State to give the guidance, which seems to be the basis for all this, and to make the policy statement? The answers to those questions are clearly yes. Therefore, to that extent they are rhetorical, which, again makes our point.
The Minister referred to the policy statement, which, in my view, is full of top-down rules and regulations. The longer I listened to the Minister speaking, the more I saw a whole series of top-down guidance, rather than regulations, which everyone seems to have to carry out. He said that practitioners welcome new guidance to prepare for new duties. However, if you are provided with a load of new duties but you do not quite understand what they mean or understand the legislation, of course you will welcome guidance telling you how to do it. Otherwise, you may be very worried that you are not doing your job properly.
The Minister said that he detected a lot of enthusiasm among local authorities. I should like to know where that is to be found. I detect little or no enthusiasm among local authorities for most of the contents of the Bill. Although this is one of the more benign parts of it compared with some of the others, nevertheless it is all utterly unnecessary. It is legislation that does not need to be enacted. One of the basic principles of legislation always used to be that the state had no right to involve itself in the liberties of the citizen unless it was necessary. Now the Government seem to think that they can involve themselves in legislation, all of which affects the liberties of citizens or organisations, not if it is necessary but if they feel like it or it is convenient, or expedient, or for whatever reasons.
I asked about evidence of failure among local authorities which are not carrying out this provision, but have been given none. However, we should be prepared to believe that some will be judged not to be doing it properly. What the Government have to understand is that some will not be doing it properly after this legislation is enacted because some poor local authorities do not do things well or do not do particular things well. Enacting legislation like this, saying that they must be good boys and girls, does not mean to say that they will be good boys and girls. This legislation will change little except that some people will be employed to carry out unnecessary work, which will result in duplication. It is not simply a question of saying—as my amendment does—that previous work should not be wasted, but rather that new work should not be done if it is unnecessary. There is no evidence at all that if you want to get a comprehensive and holistic picture, to quote the Minister, of local authorities’ economic situation, you cannot get it from them or be referred to someone else who has that information. That is the existing situation in most places and is why I think this clause ought to be removed from the Bill.
The noble Lord mentioned guidance far too much. Every other word was about guidance, which is what we are concerned about. I thought he said that guidance might be applied on a different basis. Clearly, what happens in my county is very different from what might happen in Lancashire, Northumberland or Cornwall. Therefore, guidance will need to be applied differently. If guidance is to be applied to processes, it will result in much more bureaucracy, which is one of the things we are all concerned about. I hope that the noble Lord is not thinking that there will be so much detailed national guidance that we will stop what we are doing now and start all over again. Local authorities are doing their very best. If they are encumbered with national guidance, it might make the situation much worse. I hope that the noble Lord will reflect on that. He said that the national guidance would be light touch, but successive Secretaries of State can view “light touch” differently. We are very concerned about this issue.
One of the key issues here was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—namely, whether this provision lies within current powers. It does but we need to provide a consistent framework within which it can happen. This is not just about identifying a handful of criteria but achieving consistency across the country as regards how the measure is carried out. We have had fruitful events which local authorities have attended. Many local authorities attended events in the south-west and found them useful. I take the point that Secretaries of State change but we will consult on the guidance. We are discussing with IDeA its sector-led guidance on best practice. This is about providing a consistent framework and ensuring that things are joined-up. In certain areas measures are not feeding into the regional strategy. This is what we are trying to join up. The guidance would direct people to that.
This is the first of a series of debates on this issue. I hope that we can persuade the Government to revisit this area, otherwise we will have complicated further processes in the passage of the Bill through Report stage and Third Reading. Clearly there is a lot of unhappiness with the Bill.
When local authorities are consulted on whether they want a new duty the only reason they say yes is that they think they might get a bit more money. They do not say yes because they will be getting guidance from the Secretary of State. If we have a duty, we usually get money. That is why they said yes last year, rather than saying yes to a lot of involvement by the Secretary of State. Local authorities already do it and they thought that if they had a duty to do so they would get a few more millions to help them with regeneration and so on. That is why they said yes. They wanted a bit more money for regeneration and help with their economies. If the Government said that, they would have no problems with their proposals. We will have a series of discussions round this issue this afternoon. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 160D withdrawn.
Amendments 160E to 161A not moved.
162: Clause 63, page 42, line 17, leave out “, other than a non-unitary district council”
This is a simple amendment which follows on from some of the previous discussion and which has been promoted by the Local Government Association. The Minister will know from her work with LAs that it seems ridiculous in two-tier authorities not to involve district councils. I shall be referring later to the very successful Essex partnership involving the county and district councils, the health authorities, the police, and so on. We are doing the economic assessment together, so it would be ridiculous to rule out the district council as partners in the assessment. I beg to move.
I rise in support of Amendments 162 and 163. As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, they are simple amendments. He has more experience in working with district councils than me, and if the leader of a county council says that it makes sense, it must be right. The Local Government Association supports the amendments. It points out, correctly, that district councils have the housing responsibility. They are the local planning authority, so it makes no sense to exclude them from the Bill. I hesitate to say that because in reality, of course, they cannot and will not be excluded; they have to, and will continue to, work with county councils. We share the view of the LGA that a straightforward joint duty in two-tier areas would be preferable and would remove the central role of the districts. The noble Lord said that it was a simple amendment, which it is. It is clear in its intention and purpose, but it is also an important amendment.
Amendments 163A and 163B are also in this group, referring to the involvement of district councils in two-tier areas and their relationship with the county council. I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and I support everything he and my noble friend said.
Amendment 163A refers to Clause 63(6)(b), which refers back to the duty on the local planning authority under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, of which, as I said, we all have fond memories. Clause 13(1) states:
“The local planning authority must keep under review the matters which may be expected to affect the development of their area or the planning of its development”.
Clearly, the duty refers to the district council as a planning authority and to its functions in development and planning. As regards the economic assessment of an area, as opposed to land use or spatial planning—functions wider than those merely of a planning authority are involved. One of the things that a lot of district councils have done over the past 30 years is taken on new roles in the economic development of their area. That may be in town centres or industry, or working through their local strategic partnership in job creation and training, and economic stimulation. There are all kinds of areas that are not specifically related to district council functions, but districts have become involved in them because of the need and because of what they can obviously do.
Much of this Bill, particularly this clause, implies that districts really do not do that kind of thing. It implies that the county does it and that districts just do the planning and function as a housing or leisure authority, or whatever. But even in that, districts have important functions in the wider economic development and prosperity of their area. I am therefore proposing that rather than restricting the measure to this narrow interpretation of what districts may contribute as planning authorities, it should apply to anything that they think is useful—anything to do with the rest of their functions. In two-tier areas of the country—the districts at a town level and the borough level—the districts are more important than the counties as regards economic development functions.
Finally, some parts of the country are getting these new strange things called “multi-area agreements”—I declare an interest in an authority which has just signed up to one. MAAs exist specifically to promote economic development and the economic regeneration of areas. That is their single most important function and it is why they have been set up. Districts in areas such as Pennine Lancashire are playing a major part in that, alongside the unitary authorities and the county councils in their own two-tier areas. To omit them from this proposal seems silly. Nowadays, districts do far more than the Government understand and realise, going by much of what is in the Bill.
Amendment 163B is fairly simple. The Bill states that the district council must co-operate with the county council. I merely want it to state that the county council must be reasonable in what it wants the district council to co-operate in, and to insist that it must co-operate when the county council makes a reasonable request, and not any old request that might have nothing to do with the issue in hand—or more likely is onerous.
Amendment 162 would have the effect of making non-unitary district councils principal local authorities in respect of the duty, as well as unitary district councils and county councils. Amendment 163 would require a county council to act jointly with the district council for that area in preparing an economic assessment. These amendments would in effect place a joint duty on the county council and district councils in its area.
We believe that there are clear advantages in having one body in the lead. This makes it easier for local authorities and partners to engage and decide on the scope and use of data and methodology, and to provide clearer lines of accountability.
County councils are already the responsible authorities for developing local area agreements in two-tier areas, working closely with partner authorities, including district councils. Given that local economic assessments will be expected to inform LAAs’ negotiations, it is appropriate for the county council also to lead the preparation of the economic assessment. It is also our view that local economic assessments should reflect the local economic geography as closely as possible. For example, in shire areas economic areas tend to match county boundaries more closely than district council boundaries, which tend to be too small. In that context, it makes greater sense to place the duty on the county council. Devon would be a good example of where the wider functional economy is matched closely to the county boundary. Here the county council leads on sub-regional economic development across the county.
I can assure Members of the Committee that we do not, in any way, underestimate the vital role districts play in supporting local economic development and regeneration. It is true that the Bill, as drafted, places the duty to prepare an economic assessment on county councils in two-tier areas. However, it also includes a requirement on those councils to consult and seek the participation of district councils within its area and to take account of the evidence gathered by the district council in the course of its role as planning authority that may affect the development of the area. It also includes a requirement for district councils to co-operate with the county council.
The Bill requires both tiers to work closely together in preparing their local economic assessment. It strikes the right balance between ensuring that district councils are fully involved and the need to avoid unnecessary burdens. It also provides district councils with an enhanced role in recognition of their important contribution to the assessment. To place a joint duty on district councils and county councils would potentially increase the costs for district councils, which would be an inefficient use of local authority resources. Also, many district councils are not as well resourced as county councils to carry out this type of function.
Amendment 163A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would require the county council to have regard to any other material that the district council decides to provide beyond the material produced by it in pursuit of its local planning role. There well may be other material held by the district council that would be of use to the county council in preparing its economic assessment. However, it is neither desirable nor necessary to place an open-ended requirement for the county council to have regard to any material that the district council decides to provide. Beyond the planning function, it is better to leave it to the county council and the district councils to sort out what material may be of use to the county council in preparing its economic assessment.
Amendment 163B would require the district council to co-operate with “reasonable requests” from the county council. We do not believe that this amendment is necessary, as the obligation to co-operate does not require the district council to do anything unreasonable. We are not suggesting that the county council has the power to direct the district council to do anything. We are confident that the county council and district councils can decide between themselves how they could best work together, as they already do in many other spheres. We do not believe that it is necessary for the Government to further prescribe on this issue.
I hope that these assurances I have given—about the requirement on county councils to seek the participation of district councils, on the duty for districts to co-operate, and on our valuing the important role that districts play—address the concerns of Members of the Committee, and that they will understand why I do not think that these amendments are necessary.
On my first amendment, the Minister said that we can leave it to the county and district councils to sort out. I would be perfectly happy with that. It is not what the Bill says. It says that the district council gets involved as a planning authority. I accept that planning functions impinge on everything else, but it should get involved as a local authority with all its functions in so far as they are relevant. An enormous number, perhaps most, of district functions are relevant to economic development, prosperity and regeneration. It would therefore be better to put a statement that the district council will co-operate with the county council as an authority, not as a planning authority, in the Bill. That is a fairly simple thing that the Government might think about, rather than just saying that I am wrong. I am not in this instance.
The Minister also said that boundaries should be based on economic geography, and there is a lot of sense in that. Very often the county is the economic unit, but it can also be a group of smaller unitary authorities. But it is also true, and here I admit that my experience is very much coloured by my own county of Lancashire, that the economic unit is smaller than a large county. That must be the case for some of the bigger counties in the south as well. For example, in Lancashire it is generally accepted and understood that our economic units are central Lancashire, the Fylde coast in west Lancashire and east Lancashire, now known as Pennine Lancashire. In these areas the districts are traditionally strong because they used to be boroughs or county boroughs and have played a large part in driving economic development. In Burnley, which the noble Lord knows well, the borough council is as important as the county council in the attempt to rescue the local economy from the decline of the past decades. The borough council is the driver behind local projects, not the county council. It is a fact of life in areas like Burnley, and I do not think the Government understand that as well as people on the ground might.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I tend to agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has said. We may revisit this issue because it does not seem to me that it would take much to give way on it. The present wording is a bit of an insult to districts because it has to be a partnership between the county and the districts, and as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, pointed out, virtually every county runs a different system. In Essex we have areas closely adjacent to London as well as very rural parts in the north of the county. One has to work with the different circumstances of each part of the county.
There is some strong feeling about this, particularly from the LGA. I think that the Government could reconsider the point, and I hope that they might do so before the next stage. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 162 withdrawn.
162ZA: Clause 63, page 42, line 22, leave out “must” and insert “may”
In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments 162AA, 164A, 164B and 165ZA. This large group contains amendments that are all concerned with the requirement to consult, and we come back to what is now becoming a familiar theme from earlier debates: the Government’s wish to prescribe, and having done so, making lists. Once you start making a list, the debate begins about who is and is not on it and why, and so on. The Government are following the logic of their own initial mistake.
Amendment 162ZA makes the requirement to consult permissive rather than prescriptive in subsection (5) so that the principal local authority “may” consult whomsoever it wishes. Of course, it already does so and will continue to do so, but rather than say that it must consult, and then go on at some length about who it must consult—no doubt to be prescribed in guidance—and how it must be done, this should be a permissive measure. If the Government are serious about their light-touch approach, they should accept the amendment.
Amendment 162AA would include parish councils specifically in the Bill. Again, at an earlier stage in our debates we all agreed about the importance of parish councils. This amendment recognises that and ensures that they are included. Either they “must” be consulted or, possibly, they “may” be consulted. Amendment 164A gets into the lists. We went through all this at considerable length on Chapter 2, and here we are again. Amendment 164A specifically adds a police authority, a crime and disorder reduction partnership, a local probation board and a youth offending team.
The purpose of the amendment at this stage is to probe why they are not there. They are obviously partner authorities, and they will obviously continue to be consulted in the preparation of economic assessments. No doubt the Minister will shortly tell us why they are not there.
Amendment 164B adds the Health and Safety Executive. Again, it is not on the list, and we probe and wonder why not. Amendment 165ZA removes the right of the Secretary of State to remove by order any person—person is defined in the Bill—he or she may wish to. Again, I return to the point made earlier by my noble friend Lady Hamwee. It may just possibly be that one day we shall have a Secretary of State who thinks that she or he would like to run every local authority in the country. That is an inconceivable thought to some of us, but it is not necessarily going to be the same Secretary of State who we have known and loved in the past. It will not necessarily for ever be the same benign Government, so well disposed towards local government, as we have now. The Government are determined to legislate for the worst councils; it is fair enough that we should consider the possibility of having the worst Governments at some time in the future.
It is as likely as having bad councils that we will one day have bad Governments. The last of my amendments in the group, Amendment 165ZB, speaks for itself. I beg to move.
I support those amendments. We have some amendments in this group, too. I endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said. To have the list of people who one should consult is ridiculous. It should be left to local circumstances, because there are different bodies in different places. I have just said that we have bodies such as the Haven Gateway and the Thames Gateway, and obviously they should be consulted, but they should not be in the legislation.
My two amendments have been suggested by the Association of Colleges, and I agree with its point. The Learning and Skills Council is mentioned in two parts of the legislation. However, legislation has just been given a Second Reading in the other place that abolishes the Learning and Skills Council and sets up a Skills Funding Agency, if I have it right, and a young People’s Learning Agency. There is already something in the Bill that is going to be abolished in the coming months, with two new bodies set up in its place. That highlights the ridiculous nature of listing all these various bodies as the Government have done.
Members of the Committee will excuse me for the fact that I was dreaming of better things than being stuck in this Committee on what, in the north of England anyway, is a nice winter day. I apologise.
I shall speak to Amendment 162AZA, which is grouped. It goes back to what I have been trying to put forward throughout the Bill, and no doubt will continue to do so. You cannot seriously set up systems to involve and consult—to deal with the real world on the ground, however you do it—without considering and including local strategic partnerships.
I do not understand the Government’s desire for local strategic partnerships to play an important role in local governance and economic matters without appearing in legislation. It is quite extraordinary and denies the world as it is. As I always say as a caveat, I would be happy if local strategic partnerships disappeared and their functions were simply put with local authorities, to do all the consultation, working groups and involvement with other bodies that LSPs do when they are working well. But they exist and are not going to disappear. We therefore ought to accept in legislation that they are just as important as all the other bodies that are listed.
In many cases, LSPs are certainly more important at a local level than the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, important though that is for particular historic buildings and monuments. They are often a fundamental part of how a local authority tackles local economic issues. They tackle social, environmental, transport and educational issues and all sorts of others, but their role of trying to produce, and provide training for, local jobs, investing in local business and improving local transport infrastructure and so on is at their heart. All of that is crucial to the local economy. The LSPs currently often commission the economic assessments that the Government are talking about and want councils to be responsible for. LSPs are currently doing this on behalf of the council and their other partners. To leave them out of legislation is crazy.
Finally, I remind the Government that LSPs exist not only for the principal local authorities at the top tier or unitary level but also for district councils. In some districts, the LSP is an important and effective body in stimulating the development of the local economy. To miss them out is just crackers. They have a wealth of information that the principal local authority can draw on.
Clause 64 sets out a list of partner authorities in respect of the local authority economic assessment duty. Clause 63 requires principal local authorities to consult those partner authorities listed in Clause 64 and other such persons, if any, they consider appropriate in carrying out local economic assessments. Members of the Committee have notified us of their intention to oppose Clause 64 standing part of the Bill. Amendment 162A would take away the requirement for principal local authorities to consult partner authorities listed in Clause 64. Amendment 162ZA is in a similar vein.
We have included Clause 64 in the Bill as there are partners that local authorities should be required to consult in carrying out their assessments. The listed authorities are already working closely with local authorities and co-operating with them in agreeing targets aimed at improving local economic outcomes. It is important that responsible local authorities engage with these partners in identifying the economic conditions of the area.
The list of partner authorities broadly follows the list of partner authorities set out in Part 5 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 for the purpose of agreeing local area agreements and which responsible authorities must consult when developing their sustainable community strategies. We have, however, restricted the list of named partners set out in Clause 64 to those bodies that have a significant economic locus—that is, where local economic development and regeneration activity is likely to impact on their core business. It is therefore shorter than the list of named partners for LAAs. The likelihood is that local authorities will want to engage most, if not all, of their partners in preparing their economic assessments. However, we do not believe that there should be a statutory duty to consult all of them. This strikes a balance between ensuring that their major economic partners have an opportunity to comment on economic assessments and limiting the burdens placed on local authorities. It also strikes a balance between prescription and local flexibility.
We have taken this approach because local economic assessments are expected to form part of the evidence-base for the sustainable community strategy and for LAA negotiations. Any evidence revealed in local economic assessments will have implications for an area’s long-term vision set out in the sustainable community strategy, and its delivery through the targets set out in the LAA, in respect of which partner authorities have a duty to co-operate. In view of this, we believe it is important that these partner authorities should have an opportunity to comment on a local economic assessment.
Beyond the list of partners set out in this clause, local authorities are free to choose who they consult. The Bill requires responsible authorities to consult other such persons, if any, whom they consider to be appropriate. If local authorities believe that there is a strong case for consulting other bodies or partnerships, they should do so. However, we believe it is important that local authorities consult the partners listed in Clause 64, as they will have an important role in determining any economic outcome-related targets in local area agreements. Involving these partners at an early stage in identifying the economic strengths and weaknesses of the local economy will help to strengthen the impact and effectiveness of targets that are agreed through local area agreements further down the line.
Under Amendment 162AZA, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would like us to go further and apply the duty to consult to all local strategic partnerships. He would have us replace the requirement to consult named partner authorities with a requirement to consult the local strategic partnerships for the area. As we have said before, we do not think that it is appropriate to frame such duties by reference to local strategic partnerships due to their lack of a separate legal identity. This could lead to uncertainty and inconsistency. As I have already said, we, of course, recognise the reality of LSPs, and the central role they play, which is why we have drawn our list of partners from those set out in Part 5 of the 2007 Act. We would expect consultation with partner authorities in relation to local economic assessments to build on existing dialogues established through the LSP framework. But, although most partners are likely to have an interest in any conclusions reached in any economic assessment, we do not believe that there should be a duty to consult all of them. As I said before, we have sought to strike a balance between ensuring that local authorities consult their major economic partners and avoiding any unnecessary burdens on local authorities and between prescription and local flexibility.
Amendments 165, 164A, 164B and 162AA propose changes to the list of partner authorities for the local economic assessment duty. We have restricted the partner status to existing LAA partners with a strong economic locus, as I have already said. Our aim has been to keep the list of partner authorities as short as possible in order to reduce the potential burden on local authorities and potential consultees.
Amendment 165 would remove the Learning and Skills Council from the list of partners for the local economic assessment duty and replace it with the managing or governing body of a further education institution in the principal local authority’s area. Amendment 198 would have a similar effect in relation to MAAs with duties. The LSC is already a partner in local area agreements and the existing non-statutory multi-area agreements, and is working with local partners across the country to identify the education and skills needs of an area and to ensure that sufficient high-quality opportunities are available to meet those needs. We believe, therefore, that the LSC should remain on the list.
The noble Lord rightly points out that it is our intention to replace the LSC. Under our proposals, responsibility for 16 to 19 funding will transfer to local authorities, supported by a new Young People’s Learning Agency, and for adults we propose to create a new Skills Funding Agency. These changes are subject to legislation, which we propose to bring forward through the forthcoming Children, Skills and Learning Bill. I am sure that Members of the Committee will agree, however, that it would not be appropriate to act as though these changes have already occurred. I can reassure them, however, that we intend at the appropriate time to make the necessary amendments to the lists of partner authorities for economic assessments and multi-area agreements with duties to ensure that they remain up to date and relevant. We recognise that further education institutions have a vital role to play in providing the education and skills training needed within local communities. I hope that that answers the noble Lord.
Amendment 164A would add police authorities, crime and disorder reduction partnerships, local probation boards and youth offending teams to the list, while Amendment 164B would add the Health and Safety Executive to the list. We are not disputing that these bodies would have an interest in any local economic assessment. But, as I said earlier, we do not believe that there should be a duty on local authorities to consult all partners. Local authorities should be given the scope to decide for themselves which other bodies they should consult in preparing their assessments beyond the core list in Clause 64. We should give local authorities some local flexibility to decide which bodies to consult, depending on local circumstances.
Amendment 162AA would require principal local authorities to consult parish councils in carrying out their local economic assessments. We accept that parish councils have an important role to play in supporting their local communities and are able to provide a particularly local perspective. We certainly believe that there is value in principal local authorities consulting parishes, and this a point we stress in our policy paper. Indeed, our statutory guidance, Creating Strong, Safe and Prosperous Communities, suggests that local authorities should consider consulting parish councils in preparing their sustainable community strategy and LAA. However, given the large number of parishes—about 8,500 across England—we do not believe there should be a duty to consult them. We believe that this would place an unnecessary burden on local authorities and potentially on parish councils.
Amendment 165ZB would require partner authorities to provide a principal local authority with all requested information and to co-operate fully with the principal local authority. We have tried to avoid making the arrangements too burdensome for both partner authorities and local authorities. It is true to say that the same partners have a duty to co-operate in determining LAA targets. However, we should draw a distinction between what is required from partner authorities in relation to LAAs and what is required of them in relation to economic assessments. With LAAs, partners need to make hard decisions affecting the social, environmental and economic well-being of an area, and this may have implications for funding programmes. The same does not apply to local economic assessments. The economic assessment is not an end in itself but part of a continuous process of planned engagement in shaping the future of a place. Engagement with partner authorities in relation to economic assessments should build on existing dialogues, as I set out earlier. In that context, we do not believe that a duty to co-operate on economic assessments is necessary.
We are also concerned that an open-ended requirement for partner authorities to provide all requested information to principal authorities would place an unnecessary burden on partner authorities, particularly those whose activities are not confined to one principal authority’s area. There may also be issues of confidentiality or privacy that should be taken account of, and a duty to share all requested information may compromise those. A partner authority should be allowed to determine which data it should provide rather than face a requirement to share all data.
Finally, Amendment 165ZA would remove the Secretary of State’s power to remove a body from the list of partner authorities. We believe it is important to retain this provision in case the functions of a body change or it is abolished. I should also stress that such a revision would not be used lightly and is subject to consultation and parliamentary scrutiny.
I hope that these assurances address Members’ concerns and that they will understand why we are rejecting these amendments. I also ask that Clause 64 stand part of the Bill.
I have one brief comment to make about LSPs. The Government need to sort out their status in a sensible way sooner or later. I do not suggest that they should be made into fully-fledged alternative local authorities, which we fear is a course the Government may take with the economic prosperity boards later in the Bill. They have a purely spectral status, where they exist but they do not exist, and they float around in the clouds but do not have any real status in law—indeed, the Minister said that they have no legal identity. Yet, these are the bodies that the Government have used as a conduit of preference for vast amounts of investment in the past few years. How does money come for this or that project, whether economic, social or whatever? It comes via the LSP. It is extraordinary that on the one hand the Government give them such a huge status but, on the other, deny their existence. Some kind of status that can be defined in legislation needs to be sorted out for them if they are to continue to exist. One sometimes thinks that the Government are happy with them at the moment because they can abolish them overnight on the whim of the Secretary of State.
I want to pick up the Minister’s point about the onerous burden in having to consult too many people. He referred to the fact that there are thousands of parish councils. Every principal local authority knows which its parish councils are. It almost certainly has an e-mail distribution list for those councils because it will be communicating with them. If not, it ought to have such a list. Communicating and consulting—sending things out—is simply a matter of sending things once to an e-mail distribution list and perhaps having stuff on your website that people can consult. The idea that there is a huge onerous burden in writing to 25 or 200 parish councils, however many there are in a particular local authority, is a myth.
Following what my noble friend said about local strategic partners, if I remember rightly, when we considered Chapter 2, the Minister accepted that there was a need to review the accountability mechanisms for partnerships, including local strategic partnerships. Again, we are on the same issue. As my noble friend said, they exist but they do not exist. Was his wonderful phrase, “a conduit of preference”? Whether we like it or not, they are increasingly important in the local scene in their role and funding, yet because they are not recognised as a legal entity, they do not exist, so they are an obvious omission from the Bill.
I thank the Minister for his reply. He made the case for what we are saying. If they are prescriptive, as the Government wish to be, albeit with a light touch, inevitably and logically they start down a road that gets them into more and more difficulty. I wrote down a few phrases that the Minister used. The Government want the list to be as short as possible. So do we; we want it to be extremely short. Later, the Minister said that local authorities should have the scope to decide for themselves. If that were the case, it would be an extremely short list; maybe that is the answer.
It may be a view that the police authority, the CDRP and the other bodies are not listed because they are not major economic players. It puzzles me that a fire and rescue authority is considered a major economic player in the Bill but a police authority is not. I do not understand that logic. The Minister says, rightly, that a local authority can and certainly will consult the police authority, the CDRP and so on. Indeed, they will be represented on the local strategic partnership, which is probably the issue on which most of this debate will take place, except that it does not exist in law.
I am sure that we will return to this issue. I hope that before we do so the Government will consider further the difficulties they are getting into, which are similar to those on Chapter 2. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 162ZA withdrawn.
Amendments 162A to 164 not moved.
Clause 63 agreed.
Clause 64 : Partner authorities
Amendments 164A to 165ZB not moved.
Clause 64 agreed.
165ZC: After Clause 64, insert the following new Clause—
“Sustainable Communities Act 2007
(1) Section 6 of the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (c. 23) (local spending reports) is amended as follows.
(2) At the end of subsection (9) insert “and shall make all arrangements within the period of 24 months beginning on that date”.”
Amendment 165ZC would insert a new clause that would amend the Sustainable Communities Act, albeit only very little. It is there as a basis for questioning what is happening with that legislation. When it was passed, an awful lot of people seemed to put their faith in it. They now feel that the Government may be dragging their feet.
Section 6(9) of the Act provides that:
“The Secretary of State must make the first arrangements under this section within the period of 18 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed”.
That was 23 October 2007, so we are coming up to the end of the 18 months this spring. Reading the Act, I realised that I was unclear whether the first arrangements were the arrangements for the first authorities, the first arrangements for all authorities, or quite what. It is appropriate to ask, first, how the Government see that admirably short legislation fitting with the Bill, because they must have much ground in common, and, secondly, what progress is being made.
I had understood that the Government were intending to make the first arrangements last autumn, well ahead of the April 2009 deadline, and that local authorities have until 31 July to make proposals via the Local Government Association, which is the selector under the Bill. The directors’ letter to local authorities, which supplements the Secretary of State’s and which was on the website this morning, said that the Government cannot be precise about how quickly decisions will be made, so I am using this opportunity to ask, importantly, how the two pieces of legislation fit together and for a brief progress report. I beg to move.
I support the noble Baroness, because I think that we all hoped for a lot from the Sustainable Communities Act. It had all-party support, and I hoped that it would offer local government opportunities to do things rather differently or to think of new things. It would have been particularly appropriate to use it in this difficult time of recession. Like the noble Baroness, I would like the Minister to clarify exactly where we are with that legislation and with the Bill.
I am very happy to do that and to answer both questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, because it gives me an opportunity to update the Committee in general about the Bill.
Shorter legislation is not necessarily easier to implement. I shall exemplify this by explaining why we have had to take our time over the process that was generated by the Act. As the noble Baroness says, a Secretary of State is required under Section 6 of the Act to make the first arrangements for the production of local spending reports before 23 April 2009. She asked how this fits in with the Bill. I thought about this as she asked the question.
There is an overlap in building up an evidence-base for the way in which local economies—which involve a whole range of sustainable provisions for housing, transport and so on—fit into the sustainable economy, society and community of the local area. We will see what will help and what will hinder. All this will overlap directly with the economic assessment and reinforces the point that a lot of information and methodologies will come forward that we have not used before. That underpins the necessity of having an enabling framework around the economic assessment. That will all feed from the bottom up into the regional strategy. It will become part of that bedrock and that platform of information about the nature of sustainability, the priorities and the emphasis that we give to different parts of the policy. It very much has a synergy with the whole process that we will be talking about from now on.
A local spending report is a report on expenditure by such authorities, in such areas, and over such a period as are determined in accordance with arrangements made by the Secretary of State. The duty was put on the Secretary of State to provide the information. The authorities may be a local authority, a government department or any other person exercising public functions. The area must be one or more local authority areas, one or more parts of a local authority area, or a combination of those.
Providing information about these things in this way is a major, new challenge, and it is complex. We were very keen to see some discretion in the Act as it went through because of that complexity and the need to be flexible. We have been working across the department and with key stakeholders from other departments, such as the Audit Commission and the LGA, to map out what information is currently available. I shall be frank that this has taken longer than we thought. We had originally planned to consult in 2008, but it has proved more complex than we initially expected. We are now at the point where we are preparing to run a consultation on what it is proposed will be provided in the first tranche of information about expenditure relating to local authorities. The idea is that the first arrangements will be the first tranche of information about expenditure, which will go to every local authority, which the Secretary of State is required to do. The consultation will be on whether we have got it right, whether it is the right sort of information and so on.
That is the first stage. We are planning to do it in two stages. There will be one document, and we will try to bring that forward as fast as possible. We will certainly do that before 23 April. Then there will be a longer stage, when we will consult on the longer-term arrangements.
That brings me to the amendment. The intention behind local spending reports, as the noble Baroness knows, because she was heavily involved in the passage of the Act—I was not involved, for reasons that escape me at the moment; maybe I was doing the Housing Bill or something—is to promote the sustainability of local communities by providing access to information about the public funding that is available in local areas. The aim is to inform local authorities’ consultations with local people and to enhance the operation of the new LAAs by ensuring that there is greater accountability and transparency, so that local authorities, their partners and communities can take more informed decisions about priorities and sustainability.
We need to ensure that local spending reports are closely linked with the regular and accessible information on local services that we have committed to providing. What we are looking at here is very much a living document. It is iterative. The amendment suggests that we should bring this forward and make sure that it is secured in 24 months, but the Act intentionally provided flexibility on what local spending reports must contain. We do not want this to be a snapshot; we want it to be an evolving document. Putting in dates and timetables would not be appropriate.
The important thing is that the documents reflect a true picture of what is going on and can anticipate what is likely to happen; so they have got to be able to adapt to future policy. We want to make sure that they can do that over time. I hope that is sufficient to update noble Lords about where we are, what they can expect in the next few months and how we see the documents evolving over time.
I will not attempt to extend the discussion on this, but it will be useful for those outside the Committee who have been asking about it to see the Government’s response. It may be that we will want to come back to knitting the Sustainable Communities Act more closely into this legislation. The noble Baroness said that a short statute is not necessarily easy to implement. I cannot resist saying that a long one is not necessarily easy either. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 165ZC withdrawn.
Clause 65 : Regional strategy
165A: Clause 65, page 44, line 21, at end insert “to be established by the responsible regional authorities as specified in section 67”
I shall speak also to Amendment 165B. We have talked a lot about consultation on economic strategy, but these amendments concern how the RDA would consult on the regional strategy. I shall go back to several points I made at the beginning of the Committee sitting today. We have had these debates before, and on the last occasion planning powers were given to regional assemblies. They are now being removed from those bodies, which at least had elected members, and given to the RDAs, which might have one or two elected members, but even then they will have been appointed to the agency. Given that, we want it to be absolutely clear who the RDAs are going to consult with and take notice of in constructing the regional strategies.
We are not sure where the economic assessments we considered earlier relate to all this, but every type of authority within each region has a particular type of power. We talked about how district councils have a local government framework structure that includes planning and housing powers, while county councils have highway powers, some responsibility for education, care for the elderly, park authorities and particularly environmental concerns. It is not clear, but this provision might remove county councils from consultation on the regional strategy.
We went through much of this when we considered the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill in 2004, led by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. In fact, we defeated the Government several times in the House on the list of people to be consulted, and county councils were returned to the list. It seems ridiculous not to consult county councils when they have the powers I have just outlined.
We have talked at length about not building too much into the Bill, and I endorse that again. However, this is something that should be in the legislation. If a non-elected body is going to draw up the regional strategy, even in partnership with leaders’ boards, which we shall talk about later, we should make certain that the regional authority consults with the right people—the democratically elected people in the region—to ensure that they have a real input into creating the regional strategy. I beg to move.
This is the first debate on the implications of the regional structures, but I will save my longer contextual speaking note until we come to the later group because that will allow us to have something of a clause stand part debate. However, I have not forgotten the main points the noble Lord made in his remarks earlier this afternoon. I shall deal specifically with the two amendments before us.
Amendment 165A specifies that the regional strategy is established by the responsible regional authorities. I think that the meaning of the word “establish” is unclear. A key part of our proposals is to embed stronger democratic accountability throughout the entire process of preparing the regional strategy. That is why the Bill establishes a genuinely collaborative approach between RDAs and local authorities in the drafting of regional strategies to achieve the objectives. It has buy-in from local authorities, communities, business and other stakeholders. The leaders’ board will be comprised of local authority leaders with sufficient authority to act on behalf of all local government in the region. Together with the RDA they will have joint responsibility for the regional strategy: drafting, implementation and monitoring.
However, there will obviously be others who also have a key role. The whole set of professional staff employed by the RDA and leaders’ boards will lead the process, but the reality is that local authorities, and particularly planning and economic development departments, hold much of the evidence and local knowledge that will go into the development of the strategy. Communities and stakeholders will therefore be vital contributors, including business, community groups and so on. Government agencies will be vital, because government make such a major investment in major infrastructure, such as transport or flood defence. Of course, the Government are responsible for much of the investment underpinning the delivery of these strategies. Many of these roles are set out in subsequent clauses, and we will debate them as we come to them. The effect of the probing amendment would essentially be to duplicate that.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield did not speak to Amendment 172. I do not know if it is listed in this group.
I shall give the noble Lord the answer that I would have given. This is the proposition that the leaders’ board must approve the regional strategy. We will come on to a discussion of the powers of the Secretary of State, how they are positioned in the Bill and why they are there.
We have established a model in the Bill, based on extensive consultation over the past two years. The leaders’ board and RDA must jointly agree a draft regional strategy, which then has to be approved by the Secretary of State. In practice, the RDA and leaders’ board each have a joint veto because they each have to agree with each other. The amendment would give the leaders’ board a veto over the Secretary of State if they chose not to approve the strategy with amendments from the Secretary of State. As I will say later, however, the Secretary of State has a responsibility to ensure that the regional strategies in place reflect regional priorities but are in line with national government policy and deliverable—for example, that they reflect the resources available. Ultimately, if something is not deliverable, it is meaningless and there is no point in having a “strategy”. If the amendment is included, therefore, there is a high risk of regional strategies simply ending in deadlock. We cannot afford that situation, which this arrangement is designed to avoid.
On the important point of consultation, Amendment 165B requires the responsible regional authorities to consult all local authorities in a region before establishing the regional strategy. Amendment 175B, which, again, has not been spoken to, but which I shall address—
I appreciate the confusion over groupings. We are handling some complex groupings in this part of the Bill, so I quite understand.
Both amendments ask the Government to give assurances that local authorities will be properly included. Amendment 175B would require every local authority in the region to be included in the statement of community involvement, which sets out policies on those who need to be involved in the preparation of the regional strategy. I reassure the noble Lord and noble Baroness that I have total sympathy with what they are seeking to establish. It is important that the right people are consulted, and that they have the maximum opportunity to inform the strategies. It is inconceivable that the list of those who have an interest in the development of a regional strategy would not include local authorities, not least because their plans will have to be in general conformity with the strategy.
Secondly, we set out in the policy document that we published a few weeks ago that, as well as a general requirement to consult and engage, we will set out in regulations a more detailed list of specific bodies that must be consulted. Clearly, I am happy that we will consult on this and make sure that noble Lords are aware of those regulations before time. The annexe to that policy document sets out the range of bodies that we expect to be covered in the regulations. It includes,
“a relevant authority any part of whose area is in or adjoins the area”,
of the region in the case of the regional strategy. I hope that gives sufficient clarity and assurance.
I also emphasise again that, by giving the joint duty to develop the regional strategy to the LA leaders’ board, we have really put local authorities into the driving seat. When we debate this, I will be able to provide evidence for noble Lords about the way in which local authorities in the regions are responding positively to that. For all those reasons, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Perhaps I should ask a question first, because we are going to have a long discussion on regional strategy. What do the Government expect to get out of a regional strategy? In London it is difficult, but you can have a London strategy. You can have a strategy around Manchester or Birmingham. In the large regions, such as the eastern region, which I am part of, or the south-east region, the strategies that we have been trying to work out over the past few years have not worked at all. If the Government want housing numbers, they have gone about it totally the wrong way. It would be much better to involve smaller groups of authorities, as we talked about earlier.
This seems to be a whole bureaucratic nightmare, and nothing is ever going to be achieved out of it, because the regions are so disparate and have such different problems. At this stage, will the noble Baroness tell us why the Government are doing it? It seems totally unnecessary, it will create a lot of bureaucracy and it will cost a lot of money. RDAs spend a lot of that money now, but they have a lot of staff. I am not talking against the staff of the eastern region. They have around £200 million to spend and around 200 members of staff. If you shared that around the local authorities, we could spend that money rather better on economic development and regeneration for about 10 members of staff. That is honestly true.
What do the Government expect to achieve out of this? We will go through the debate later about regional strategies, leaders’ boards and everything else. It would be better to leave it to elected members in elected authorities to work together to solve these problems, rather than creating this tremendous bureaucratic nightmare of having strategies all over the place. Are they going to deliver anything?
I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I answer his absolutely pertinent question in the context of the beginning of the next debate. When we debate the clause standing part, I will be able to answer the question at more length than I can at the moment. I will draw on some of the words that have been put to me by both regional and local leaders about why the current system—he has said so frankly this afternoon—is not working.
Could the Minister think about how it will have to be different? The old county structure plan actually delivered things. Everything that we have had since then, I agree, will have to be rethought. Counties are quite big. They work out logistics with partners and they have LAAs. A modern version of a county structure might deliver more houses for the Government, a better economic strategy and some of the things that we want, that they want and that the public might like, rather than creating bureaucratic nightmares of unelected boards and unelected people trying to tell elected people what they think they want. Obviously, the noble Baroness wants to give a fuller reply. Why can we not go back a bit and examine what was better in the old days rather than what we have now?
I know that this is a shocking thing to say; perhaps it should not even be reported. The point is that Essex sits within a region that is now as much the victim and the master of globalisation as every other region in the country. There are choices to be made. Housing is a particularly sensitive area—it is a particular issue in Essex for different reasons—but all our regions are facing different challenges from the ones that they faced when the old counties were so triumphant. One issue is climate change, which affects how we plan for transport, the movement of people, where people work as well as where they live, how we manage our environment and the balance between rural and urban areas. All those issues, and many more, cannot be contained within the most efficient authority in the world. The regions have a much more important role to play.
That is why I very much support MAAs. I hate taking Essex as an example all the time, but it must work with London and the London boroughs, particularly those that were part of Essex such as Havering, Redbridge and even Enfield. It must also work with the ring road authorities around the M25, so we have to work with Buckinghamshire and Surrey because of the expansion of the M25. As I said earlier, there is also the Thames Gateway, which means Kent and London, and the Haven gateway, which means Suffolk. We also have the M11 corridor, which means Hertfordshire.
As much as I love them, we do not need to work with North Norfolk or Cambridgeshire. It is just ridiculous. To a certain extent, the RDA has been slightly dominated by Norfolk, so it has been totally alien to us. I have nothing against it—no doubt they are all very good people—but it would have been much better to work with the people with whom we have a day-to-day existence. As leader, I have to talk about London and the Thames Gateway; I do not have to talk about what has happened in North Norfolk or the fen district in Cambridgeshire. It would be much better if we could talk about housing strategies, economic strategies and highways with the people with whom we have a day-to-day existence.
I shall reply very briefly; we will have a debate that is far too long in a moment. On the Liberal Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for example, challenges the need for sub-regional arrangements. Our argument is that sub-regional arrangements are extremely important.
It is a contradiction in terms. Those arrangements can be driven only by the regions and the sub-regions, otherwise they simply will not work.
We must address the potential inequalities in the regions and manage and avoid failure as well as mobilise success. All our regions are very complex in different ways, but if we are to secure the sort of investment and the skills that we need, and if we are to deal with the massive changes that there will be in our economies—we have seen huge shocks in our economy in the past six months—we will have to have exactly the sort of arrangements that are obviously working very well in Essex with all its sub-regional partners. However, we also need a regional vision and a process to ensure that we can address the inequalities across regions as well as mobilise potential. These are long-term plans; they are not plans that will suffice for the next five years.
We had a bit of a debate there. As I said, I very much supported the government initiative for a sub-regional strategy, but the regional strategy seems to be creating a lot more bureaucracy and giving the RDAs much more power. That is why we have a lot of problems with the Bill, which will continue.
I always believe in flexibility. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said—I heard the Minister say this herself—that these systems should be flexible. If we are not careful, we will create a fairly inflexible system. If we could see more flexibility in what the Government were creating, it might work. I am sure that we will have lots of debates on this area before we finish. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 165A withdrawn.
Amendment 165B not moved.
165C: Clause 65, page 44, line 22, at end insert—
“( ) policies in relation to the spatial strategy for the region,”
In moving Amendment 165C, I shall speak also to Amendments 165E, 166B, 177F, 182ZA, 182ZB and 182ZC in this large group. I will not intentionally anticipate the introductions of other Members of the Committee to their amendments. The exchange that we have just had—in particular, the quite extemporary comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and the response from the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—has already encapsulated some objections to Part 5. Although other Members of the Committee may not think so, they already have made the arguments very effectively for the case that all these clauses stand part.
Amendment 165C concerns spatial planning. The objective of Part 5 is to move spatial and economic strategies closer. I am concerned about the diminishing role of spatial planning at a regional or sub-regional level. We have heard that this is intended for the long term, but the 2004 Act was only five years ago and the sections in that Act on spatial strategic planning are to be repealed. In a separate group, we will debate the terms “sustainable development”, “sustainable economic growth” and so on. But I understood regional spatial strategies to have been designed to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in all its aspects and to be the balance to which we always refer.
Under Clause 65(2) spatial policies are listed second. Clause 65(2)(b) uses the same terminology as the 2004 Act, so the word “spatial” does not appear. Members of the Committee will understand what I mean. “Sustainable economic growth” is the first objective under Clause 65(2)(a). Clause 65(6) reverses the order, but it gives no clue as to whether it is intended that only the parts of the regional spatial strategy which promote economic growth are to be retained.
Spatial planning concerns matters such as character and identity. I have seen the term “legibility” used, as well as the quality of the public realm, the use of movement, diversity and so on. On other occasions, Members of the Committee have talked much of place shaping, which does not stop at the boundary of the principal local authority. Planning and urban policy should facilitate sustainable development through detailed understanding of the characteristics of different places and economic centres within economic regions and the sub-regions.
I have tabled this amendment because I would like the Government to justify what I see as a move from the balance inherent in sustainable development to economic growth. I accept that we are not in a good state economically, but I do not believe that that justifies a focus on economic growth, possibly to the exclusion in all practical terms of all other considerations. Does it justify the role that regional development agencies will have in planning, rather than there being a separate regional spatial strategy? Combining the spatial and economic pieces of work carries the danger that the two will be conflated. I do not see that it will be possible to keep them separate, but I am concerned about there being an expectation that economic considerations will override all others. That would be bad in the long term, bad environmentally, bad socially and, indeed, bad economically.
Amendment 165E seeks to insert “development” instead of “growth” on the basis that change for the better is not necessarily growth. Amendments 166B and 182ZB seek to change “contribute to” to “further” in the context of contributing to the,
“mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change”.
We believe that “further” is stronger than “contribute to”. This argument was made in the context of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill—that is running almost exactly concurrently with this Bill—in an amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Greaves. This morning I had a look at the Minister’s reply to the group of amendments that proposed this change of terminology. The Government’s resistance to it did not seem justified. The issue was not addressed. The concepts of sustainable development were addressed but not the particular point that was made. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on it in this Bill.
Amendment 177F would provide for publication of the work that had been prepared. I assume that if a report of a sustainability appraisal—of the draft revision in this case—is prepared, it will be published. However, I do not really want to assume anything.
I have deliberately not tabled amendments seeking to define “sustainable development”. We all know about the dangers of starting to list items. Further, I think it is better that this legislation is consistent with other legislation. I have avoided detail not least because “sustainability” and “sustainable development” cover a concept that is continuing to develop. Accepted thinking is gradually changing and growing. Last year, during the passage of the Planning Act, there was some fancy footwork which inserted references to climate change and design. There is a reference to climate change in Clause 65(4), and to design in Clause 78(2). I do not seek to delete the latter reference but I question whether it should be such a particular aspect of sustainable development. Clause 78(2) states that for the purposes of sustainable development authorities,
“must (in particular) have regard to the desirability of achieving good design”.
Before somebody challenges me on this, I accept that good design extends beyond the aesthetic and includes, for instance, design which would achieve a low or nil carbon footprint. Nevertheless, to say that it has such a status distorts the whole of the picture.
Finally, Amendment 182ZA would insert in the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998 a sustainable economic development duty. As I have said, thinking moves on, and I would like to see the regional development agencies—if one has to have regional development agencies, as they are not our favourite quango—in line with what is happening and the duties imposed on other organisations. Perhaps I am misguided in this, but what the Government say they are doing in this part of the Bill is undermined. It would certainly leave a very big gap in policy. The role of the RDAs in the Bill and beyond the Bill is important and growing. We do not support these quangos—we do not support quangos generally—but if we are to have them, they should apply sustainability to economic development and should have wider considerations than what is relevant to their own different areas. That is in the third paragraph of my amendment.
More than 10 years ago, we debated the phrase, “where it is relevant to its area to do so” and we were told that there had to be a limit on what RDAs should take into consideration. There, thinking has moved on as well. Each RDA should be thinking outside its own boundaries as well as within them. I beg to move.
We have Amendments 166ZA and 166ZB in this group. I agree with all that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, just said. Our first amendment inserts the word “sustainable”, and the second inserts,
“policies in relation to the preservation of greenbelt land”.
We have talked a lot today about economic development, but we have to make certain—as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said—that it is sustainable. Therefore, we must particularly talk about the environment and the consequences of the social side of it. Unfortunately, we live with some of the problems of the rush for economic development and housing after the world war and even into the 1960s. We must consider the social side of all that we are doing and not put the economic crisis right at the forefront. All these things must be taken together, so one can have concerns about that, particularly the arguments about the greenbelt.
I do not like to refer to my county again, but areas around London are particularly conscious of the greenbelt and the way in which it protects all the counties from the encroachment of London. The greenbelt is a very valuable part of that. I would like to hear the noble Baroness comment on how some parts of the country are losing their greenbelt, which is very precious to most of the population.
Amendments 166A, 175A and 176A are in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. Unfortunately, she has damaged her knee and is confined to her home. She sends her apologies, and I have pleasure in speaking to the amendments on her behalf. Amendment 166A requires each regional strategy to make specific provision for meeting housing need in the region. Amendments 175A and 176A require the authorities involved in a regional strategy to consult relevant housing bodies.
Had the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, been with us, she would have made the following remarks. The Bill will mark a major shift in regional strategy and decision-making for all regions outside London. Regional assemblies currently have responsibility for housing and planning at regional levels and oversee the development of regional spatial strategies, regional housing strategies and regional housing investment advice to Ministers. However, under the Bill, assemblies will cease to exist and these responsibilities will pass jointly to regional development agencies and local authority leaders’ forums. These bodies will be required to produce a single regional strategy that must include elements for economic development and planning, but will not include important stakeholders—housing providers and trades unions—which the forerunner regional assemblies did. There is a risk that if this wider strategy is developed without specific housing objectives and with no input from housing experts such as the Homes and Communities Agency, housing providers or other stakeholders, there will be no clear mechanism or accountability for delivering the homes which this country desperately needs. Whereas the regional assemblies specifically address wider housing objectives, such as meeting housing need through regional housing strategies, the new structure will place an overwhelming emphasis on the economy from RDAs, and on planning, transport and the economy from second-tier local authorities. Housing, however, is a key element of economic success, yet there is a real danger that the focus on housing will be lost in the transition to new regional governance arrangements.
Shelter and the National Housing Federation support these amendments, pointing out that more than 4 million people are on waiting lists for social housing in England—1.6 million households, which represents around one in every 13 households in the country. The Local Government Association expects the figure to rise to 5 million by 2010. There is a desperate need to build more homes in order to meet growing needs, and this should be a priority that is reflected in the regional structure. If she had been in her place, the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, would have said, “If my noble friend accepts these amendments, each regional strategy will then include specific measures to address housing need and the relevant housing organisations will be able to influence the strategy at an early stage. These changes to the Bill would surely be highly desirable”. On behalf of the noble Baroness, I beg to move.
This is a large and important group of amendments and is one of the two groups that are the meat of our discussions today. I am assuming that the Marshalled List I have before me is correct, so I shall speak to Amendments 165D, 177A, 177B, 177E and 177F, and to the question of whether the clause should stand part. First, however, we extend our sympathies to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. It is no criticism of the noble Lord to say that we would rather that she had been in her place to move her amendment. We look forward to her coming back.
These are the proposals for a new system of regional planning that will be called the regional strategy. If I have understood them, the strategy will be two plans or strategies in one. The regional spatial strategy, which my noble friend pointed out we have had for only three or four years, is to be abolished or subsumed into the new regional strategy. In addition, we are to have the regional economic strategy, which until now has been produced by the regional development agencies and is one of a number of strategies that informs the regional spatial strategy. We have to understand how the new system is going to work in relation to these two quite different functions. They are closely related, but they are different. The RDA is not mainly a strategy-producing body, but an investing body. It is a means by which funds from the Government, the private sector and other public bodies are channelled into particular projects in a region, which is what their economic strategy and planning is about.
We also have the regional spatial strategy. When we were dealing with the Bill four years ago, we wrestled with the change from pure land-use planning into spatial planning and the difference between them. The truth is that it is a gradation. There had been a lot of spatial planning for a long time, but the emphasis was put on something more than simply land-use planning. It was indicative and an attempt to be proactive. Nevertheless, it was still part of the planning system.
The regional spatial strategy is part of the development plan, which allows authorities to judge the merits of development proposals as they come forward. It consists of the regional spatial strategy, the local development framework and the local development documents, which are all being rolled into one. Is there a conflict in rolling into one document the policies, which are to be carried out actively to produce development, with the development plan, which judges those policies in which planning authorities—at whatever level, from the local planning authority to the Secretary of State—will have to judge policies when they come out? No doubt there will be a relationship with the national policy statements produced by the Infrastructure Planning Commission as they relate to that region. There is a difficulty here and I do not understand why the Government want to do it.
I have the first part of the regional spatial strategy for the north-west, which has been adopted. For a few months, we have had this document, which will now be put on one side. Part of its title is “Regional Spatial Strategy to 2021”. If only Governments could think in that sort of timescale, the whole system would be a lot better. I have brought this document because under the part entitled “Policy Context”, in which this RSS has been put together for the north-west, a number of important strategies are listed: the regional economic strategy; the regional housing strategy and a lot of other strategies, including the regional rural delivery framework, the north-west waste strategy, the sustainable energy strategy; the climate change action plan; the freight strategy; the regional health investment plan; the north-west tourism strategy; and the vision for coastal resorts, which would include Blackpool.
It is interesting that the regional economic strategy is at the top of the list, has a paragraph of its own and is obviously the most important. This strategy provides a regional framework as part of the policy context for the RSS. On the regional economic strategy it states:
“The RES provides a regional framework for economic development, skills and regeneration … It identifies five priority areas—business; skills and employment; regeneration; infrastructure; and quality of life”.
There is no harm in that. It,
“sets out key aims and objectives for each”—
I repeat, key aims and objectives—
“and highlights the activities that the NWDA”—
the regional development association—
“believes will promote the change necessary to transform the North West economy”.
It is very much a proactive document, which is full of activity for carrying out policies.
Clearly, planning documents guide development. They should guide what should happen, what should be stopped in some places and what should be promoted in others, but it has a different function from that of spending other people’s money to achieve things. Putting them together in one regional strategy is fraught with difficulties. That is the general stuff for the clause stand part debate.
I shall speak briefly to the amendments that I have tabled. Amendment 165D seeks to disentangle sustainable economic growth and sustainable development or economic development in the two categories. It relates to amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, I think. There is a muddle here: confusion, or potential conflict, between the two aims of the regional strategy. Amendments 177A and 177B relate to the list of matters that are to be taken account of in a revision of the regional strategy. Everyone in this Committee knows that “revision of regional strategy” means putting together the first regional strategy, because in the interim period the RSS will be the regional strategy. It is what you do for the regional strategy.
The matters to be taken into account in the revision in Clause 71 are quite interesting, because they relate closely to the matters set out in Part 1 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, which is about the RSS. As my noble friend said, it is to be repealed. However, the matters are slightly different and relate to slightly different things. When the Bill refers to,
“national policies and advice contained in guidance which has been given by the Secretary of State”,
as something to which the responsible regional authorities must have regard, that is the same wording as in the previous Act, which is being repealed. As far as the RSS is concerned, there is no difference. However, the economic development side of it—the part that is coming from the RDA—is new. The question is how far it represents a greater degree of dirigiste economic planning from the centre. It clearly says “national policies” on development. There is an issue here that needs resolving.
Amendment 177B is about the resources that are available. The wording is again lifted from the 2004 Act, which referred to the planning process: the creation of the regional spatial strategy. The implication is that the resources are the resources available for putting that plan together. The implication of what is now going in is that the resources that are available are the investment resources that will be available for carrying out projects in the region. That is quite different and separate, and something that we need to ask the Government to allow us to understand. They need to explain why the same wording is appropriate for economic development activity rather than simply for planning activities.
The next amendment has been moved to another group. Amendment 177E is about the appraisal of the sustainability of the regional strategy when it is being put together. There has to be an appraisal of sustainability. I propose to insert the words “economic, social and environmental” before “sustainability”. The amendment is designed to probe just how far this new regional strategy is a shift of emphasis away from spatial planning and land-use planning towards proactive economic planning where the investment decisions will determine the planning decisions that come from them, how far it will be economic, and how far social, and particularly environmental, aspects will be taken into account at that stage. Is this what it looks like: a shift towards a purely economic emphasis in the regional strategy compared with the present regional spatial strategy? If it is not, why is it not?
I think that that covers the amendments in my group, but I want to add a final brief comment. Because the football match was snowed up this weekend and I had nothing to do yesterday, I spent some time foraging on the internet. To my surprise, I discovered that a regional strategy in the north-west is already in the process of being put together. I was somewhat surprised about that because I thought that in our debates on the Bill we were discussing whether this was a good idea, but I now discover that it is happening. The first consultation on the principles-of-disuse paper started on 3 February for 12 weeks, so we are now into what people say they are looking forward to: a vibrant debate around the region on this document. That produced a wry smile.
It is all there on the internet in something called RS2010. The process has gone as far as commissioning people to produce a fancy logo, but I do not know how much that has cost. There is a Principles and Issues Paper, which I have not yet had time to read. Then there is a “think” piece on moving towards a north-west single regional strategy, produced by SQW Consulting. It is about 50 or 60 pages long, and I have not had time to read that either. Then I discovered that there is a standard letter—I am not sure to whom—signed by the chairman of the regional development agency, the NWDA, and the chairman of the new leaders’ forum, which is a proto-leaders’ board in the north-west. He is someone called Lord Peter Smith, which I think is an alias for the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh. I was hoping that he would be here today to explain it all to me, but he is not. Perhaps he is too busy with all the north-west organisations, for which he no doubt does an excellent job.
I am a little concerned that this process is rushing off apace in the north-west. It is at the stage of the initial consultation on principles and policies, and it will be a few weeks at least before this legislation gets through Parliament. However, although this performs a useful function in that it shows us what it might be like for everyone in the future, I am not sure that this is how to go about things.
The snow brought many blessings, but clearly it brought its downsides as well. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Smith, is not here to answer those questions, but I shall do my best to say what he might have said.
I do not want to spend too long on this, but it is important that I contextualise this debate because many issues have been raised. I genuinely think that noble Lords opposite are struggling with some misapprehensions about what might happen and what is, and was always, intended. This takes us forward from the brief debate that we had on the previous group.
The problem with which we are struggling—in a way, it was described by the noble Lord when he asked whether we are imposing a conflict between the people who design the strategy and those who implement it—is that quite simply huge challenges face the regions in which the architecture is not sufficiently joined up. I shall go on to talk about how the spatial strategy and spatial dimensions will inform the regional strategy.
In essence, we all know that we have very different regions in this country. They proceed at different paces on all sorts of different things, and they are rich in diversity. For the future, we have to ensure that we address inequalities as well as strengths and that we give every region the best chance to get the investment, the skills for jobs, the business and the sustainable environment that they need.
A false dichotomy between growth and development has surfaced in some of these amendments. There is also an unnecessary fear that economic development will somehow triumph over and destroy our ability to protect, enhance, preserve and make the most of our environment, which we are trying to do in this country in many ways, not only in policy and legislation but in behaviour.
The growth that we are now talking about has to be driven to meet the challenge of globalisation, which we have seen so graphically in the past six months, and has to be sustained within environmental limits. We have said so in all our documents and arguments. But growth also enhances the environment and social welfare, and avoids catastrophic extremes in future economic cycles. Frankly, the economic health of our economy will be dependent on how proactive our regional authorities’ capacity for accommodating and promoting sustainable economic development is. However, it is not growth at all costs; this is about sustainable growth.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, described in his inimitable way what was wrong with the present system. One way of addressing this issue is to recognise that, yes, we have in the past few years had the development of a challenging and different notion of planning—spatial planning. This has certainly taken us forward. The regional spatial strategies, many of which are now nearing completion, have done extraordinary service in bringing forward understanding and a view of future development that is different from anything we have ever done before. It has been a struggle. Part of the response has been to try to reduce the opportunity for confusion and contention in the next stage of the regional economic strategy by building a much better process into the Bill.
The noble Baroness asked whether this meant that the spatial strategy is somehow lost or diminished. The answer is absolutely not. We have been developing our spatial strategies, taking into account such intelligence as we have had at our disposal in the regions. I say “our spatial strategies”, but of course the regions have been doing that. At the same time, RDAs’ regional economic strategies for skills, investment, business support, manufacturing support and the observatories for people applying for skills and work have been developed separately. Many of these strategies are related to spatial planning but they have not been sufficiently joined up.
People who are trying to deal with this problem have said to me that, despite the successes at regional level, we could be more effective. Previously, organisations in each region have had to deal with a muddled set of strategic plans: one for economics planning, one for spatial planning, and one for housing. This has meant that businesses, individuals and communities have often been confused about who was responsible for what and what the priorities were. Duplication of effort, endless consultation and inefficiencies have led to us being diverted from delivering change. So when the noble Lord asks what this is about, it is about a better capacity to deliver the social change that will really benefit our communities no matter where they are. That can now only be done through a single and integrated strategy where we bring the spatial dimensions and spatial plans to work on and with the economic, intelligence, expectations and investment plans.
At the moment, when we consider integrating spatial and economic elements, for example, in relation to land-use planning, we might allocate housing numbers in a particular region. But in a spatial regional strategy we would make sure that housing allocations were underpinned by other sound strategies—for example, in the areas of transport, skills and jobs for settlements, the provision of public services and so on. We have done as much as we can in the spatial strategies to make sure that they are informed, but they are not strong enough or close enough to make a real difference to outcomes.
We have to get greater synergy and greater alignment. The benefits of this will be the creation of a less complex, less divergent and less time consuming system for everyone. The noble Lord is not right to describe this as more bureaucracy. The benefits will be greater co-operation and synergy between local government and the regional agency, instead of how the assemblies were not able to get purchases on those processes. They will have an opportunity to do so now because they will have to work together to produce a coherent plan for the development of the region. They will have to relate to the spatial elements of the strategy for economic development, housing, planning, energy supplies and transport in the context of generating sustainable development and growth. That will focus the funding for infrastructure regeneration.
The regional strategy will map out the kind of skills that are needed and the things that we will need to anticipate and plan ahead for. All this will help with managing climate change and mitigating it. It strengthens our ability to plan effectively and collectively for the future; it helps us to be more strategic and makes for a clearer framework, which everyone can recognise, of where the conversation takes place. It also means that we will have the benefits of transparency. This is an important point. At the moment, the examination in public of the spatial strategy kicks in at the final stages of the process. The examination in public in the process of making the RES will be at the formative stage, at the start of the drafting of the strategy, so that it can advise on the evidence base and issues of principle, and can flag up where the contentious issues are likely to arise. It will not all come at the end in a cliff-edge finale.
There will also be benefits—these will be driven in part through the assessment duty—of a common evidence base: one contestation and testing process and a single sustainability process. The examination in public panel report goes to the leaders’ board and the RDA, enabling them to make any required changes. The aim will be to ensure that they agree as far as they can but, where they cannot agree, points of contention can be negotiated. There should be little or no need for central government to add any other changes and add to the time taken. We want to work out a process which keeps central government out of the picture. There will be a stronger democratic accountability throughout the process of preparing the regional strategy. It is a genuinely collaborative approach with local authorities which have sufficient authority to act on behalf of all having a joint responsibility for the regional strategy, including drafting, implementation and monitoring.
There will be greater public engagement because we have drawn not only on the experience of the RSS but also on the consultative arrangements that were built into the local development framework process. There will be crucial requirements to consult and engage on the formulae that we have worked out for the local development frameworks and statements of community interest. However, this is not prescriptive, because regions are different; they will have to develop their own arrangements to suit their own circumstances. We are not interested in blanket policies.
These proposals have been widely supported. We have held consultations over the past two years and found a strong endorsement for a single, integrated regional strategy as a way of prioritising a region’s needs and aspirations, driving forward economic development and regeneration. The joint duty on RDAs and local authorities has wide support from the LGA and the other RDAs. Since publishing our proposals the regions have taken the initiative and have made remarkable progress in putting these new arrangements in place. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has pointed out what is happening in the north-west. Many regions have gone a long way towards producing and agreeing the strategy, establishing the leaders’ boards and agreeing how they will work.
The drafting of the regional strategy will be jointly undertaken by the RDA and the leaders’ board in collaboration. They will work to a project plan which, through regulations, will become the agreed timetable for the strategy revision. Working with local authorities, they will develop a shared evidence base, engage with stakeholders and appraise the key issues and the options through a robust sustainability appraisal. Once it is drafted there will be rigorous testing through a full statutory public consultation and the EiP. That is important to build confidence. Any modification to the strategy following the panel will be undertaken collaboratively between the responsible regional authorities and the Secretary of State. The responsible regional authorities will be able to refine their strategy in the light of EiP and submit it to the Secretary of State for sign-off.
Currently in the regional spatial strategy, the legislation provides for the Secretary of State to make further changes, if needed, to ensure that the strategy reflects the imperatives of national policy and principles. However, such changes would be subject to further consultation, after which the Secretary of State will publish the agreed regional strategy that then becomes part of the single statutory development plan. That is what we aim to achieve and those are the purposes for which we have brought the Bill forward. I hope that that will help to clarify some of the key issues.
I am very sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, is not here. I do not know whether that is because of snow again, but she would be pleased by the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Best, introduced her amendments. In essence, her Amendment 166A would require each regional strategy to make specific provision for meeting housing need in the region, making explicit an element of what is already implied by Clause 65 and Clause 71(1)(a). It is therefore a duplication. It would give prominence to one topic in primary legislation over others, which would be rather unfortunate. I reassure her that Clause 71(1)(a) requires the responsible regional authorities to take into account national policy that includes Planning Policy Statement 3 on housing and the housing Green Paper and all other statements that are relevant to housing. Significantly, housing was one of the three key areas where government will set clear expectations of outcomes, alongside the economy and climate change. That was set out in our policy document in January.
Amendments 175A and 176A would require the responsible regional authorities to consult housing interests when drawing up the strategy. Again, our policy document makes clear the importance of involving housing interests, and we expect to designate the Homes and Communities Agency as a statutory consultee. We have made it abundantly clear in successive policy statements that the regional strategy is a vital mechanism for addressing the long-term housing supply and affordability across the regions. The Bill’s approach is similar to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, which established regional spatial strategies. The term “housing” does not appear in that Act, but housing is obviously a key element of the spatial strategy. With that on the record, I hope that the noble Baroness will be satisfied.
The amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, refer to the definition of sustainable development, which is the subject of many amendments by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to which I shall turn in a moment. Sustainable development is at the heart of this policy and part of the architecture of our planning policy. It is set out in PPS1, “Delivering Sustainable Development”, and is the cornerstone of all our planning policies. The basic idea is that sustainable development is the only way of ensuring a better quality of life. Spatial planning, which is what we expect the regional strategy to deliver, is vital in bringing together and integrating policies for the development and use of land with other policies and programmes that influence the nature of places and how they function. This spatial planning approach provides the framework for delivering sustainable development. As I have said, that means not only protecting the environment but providing access to jobs and services, reducing the need to travel and enhancing biodiversity and natural resources.
Clause 65 provides that each region is to have a regional strategy with policies on sustainable economic growth and the development and use of land. Clause 78 explicitly requires regional authorities and the Secretary of State to exercise their functions in relation to the regional strategy with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.
Amendment 166ZA would replace “development” with “sustainable development”. However, it should be clear from what I am saying that the regional strategies contribute to sustainable development in a way that meets the noble Lord’s main concerns. I am not minded to accept the amendment because Clause 78 already requires such a strategy to be produced in a way that contributes to sustainable development. We have to be very careful about the language, because “development” has a specific meaning in planning law. Under Section 55 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, it means building, engineering, making a material change in the use of any buildings or other land, and so on. We cannot simply replace “development” with “sustainable development” in that context. But I reassure the noble Lord that his concerns about this issue are very well taken. Regional strategies, like all other planning strategies, must be geared to sustainable development.
On Amendment 166ZB and the green belt, Planning Policy Guidance note 2 sets out strong national policies about the protection of the green belt. The Government continue to attach great importance to the green belt, the fundamental aim of which is to prevent urban sprawl. It has a positive role to play in the future in shaping patterns of urban development at sub-regional and regional level and we are firm in our determination to protect it. Clause 71 requires the responsible regional authorities, the RDAs and the leaders’ boards, to have regard, when preparing a regional strategy, to national policy and to guidance. We have published policy on the green belt. That means that the criteria have to be observed and sustained. As with the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, on housing, if we elevate the concept of the green belt as one issue, we do a disservice to other elements of policy and open up the prospect of adding renewable energy and transport to the list. I understand the concern to promote sustainable development and to protect green-belt land; they are fundamental to our policies on plan making and development management, and I hope that I have provided reassurance.
On the broad grouping of amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, I hope that I have reassured them about the importance we attach to the spatial plan—we propose no diminution, no loss or compromise in that regard—and that we have our priorities right in terms of sustainable development, which sits as an envelope around growth. I believe that I have dealt with the spatial strategy. The relevant amendment would add little because our policy document made clear the need for high-quality assessment of the spatial characteristics and needs of the region against which the overview of the key regional and sub-regional opportunities and challenges can be assessed.
Amendment 166B seeks to change the scope of the requirement for regional strategy policy to deal with climate change by replacing “contribute to” with “further”, thereby making the relevant phrase read,
“further the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change”.
I understand that in most of the Bills that we have introduced recently, the noble Baroness has been a great champion of our belief in the need to adopt an aggressive policy towards mitigating climate change. I do not think that in this context the proposed change of wording will make any difference. I argue that to contribute to the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change is, indeed, to further the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. However, she may have identified an additional problem—namely, that the wording would be inconsistent with the provisions of the Planning Act 2008, of blessed memory, which amended the 2004 Act. Section 182 of the 2008 Act said that regional spatial strategies must include policies that,
“contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change”.
It would also be inconsistent with the way local authorities address these important issues because the LDFs have to follow the planning framework. I am afraid that if we were to change the wording, we might add considerable confusion.
Amendment 182ZB sought to institute a requirement for the responsible regional authorities and the Secretary of State to further the achievement of sustainable development rather than contribute to it. This change would make the legislation inconsistent with Section 39(2) of the planning Act 2004 and would add to confusion about the duties in this regard in connection with regional strategy and local development documents.
As regards Amendment 182ZA and the general arguments about sustainability, although I understand the concern here I am afraid that the amendment is not needed because Section 4(1)(e) of the relevant legislation already gives the RDAs a duty to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development alongside their economic development duty. Our Bill also provides in Clause 78 for the RDAs to exercise their functions in relation to the regional strategy with the objective of contributing to sustainable development, and it requires regional strategies to have policies in relation to sustainable economic development. We are very clear about that. That is in Clause 65.
The amendment also removes,
“where it is relevant to do so”,
in Section 41E of the RDA Act. That would increase the scope of the RDA’s sustainable development purpose, but in such a way that the purpose would be to contribute to sustainable development everywhere else in the UK, as well as in the RDA areas. This is not the first time that Parliament has debated the issue, but if we remove that phrase, each RDA would end up having a duty to take actions contributing to sustainable development that would not be relevant to the area. The complication enables sustainable development to be relevant to an RDA area, but not restricted geographically to it. That is the best legal ground to capture what we want the RDAs to do; it is a difficult balance, but the right one.
On Amendment 165E, as I said in my opening remarks, sustainable economic growth means economic growth that can be sustained and is within environmental limits, but which also enhances environmental and social welfare. Sustainability is a key factor to apply when planning for growth. Therefore, I obviously cannot accept the amendment. We have set clear objectives through the regional economic performance PSA which requires regions to increase prosperity and enhance competitiveness. We want to ensure that we get the right economic outcomes for regional strategy. Watering down the economic outcomes of the strategy is not the solution; making sure that they are consistent with sustainable economic development is.
On design considerations, I take the point that it is proposed to change Clause 78(2), which relates to the need to have regard to the desirability of achieving good design, by removing the words “in particular”. This would make the legislation incompatible with the 2008 Planning Act which includes “in particular”. I remember that we had a major debate on that during the passage of that legislation, and again the amendment would cause confusion and alter the scope. As the noble Baroness said, good design is about social, environmental and economic considerations, not just aesthetics.
Finally, I turn to the specific amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. In Amendment 177A he proposes to remove the requirement for responsible regional authorities to take into account national policy, and available resources, in relation to Amendment 177B, when preparing a regional strategy. In Amendment 177E he proposes additional wording to Clause 71(2)(a), whereby a sustainability appraisal should deal with
“economic, social and environmental issues”.
Such a clarification, although well intentioned, is unnecessary, as policy, regulations and European law already require sustainability appraisals to consider economic, social and environmental issues. Amendment 177F changes Clause 71(2)(b) so that regional authorities must publish the sustainability report. Again, this is unnecessary as regulations and European law already require this.
I am very conscious that this debate has lasted almost an hour, but it has touched on many fundamental points about why we have constructed the Bill in this way and the intentions behind it. I hope that noble Lords will feel reassured by the way that I have approached this and the detail that I have provided, and that they will think more kindly in terms of the intentions and the benefits.
I am grateful to the Minister for that long and detailed reply. We shall have to read carefully what she said before we decide whether she has answered the point satisfactorily, so I shall retreat on that one.
On the question of national policy, I clearly was not trying to remove the national policy because planning policy statements exist and they are a part of the regional spatial strategies and the planning system. What I perhaps did not make clear in my probing for clarity here is what national documents will be produced in respect of the economic development side; that is, what the regional development agencies are doing at the moment. I assume that planning policy statements will remain and that they will be the national policy in relation to the spatial planning side. But what do the Government intend to call in evidence in relation to the economic side?
On housing, are we to understand that the existing regional housing strategies will remain, and to that extent the joining up is not taking place?
The Minister said that she hopes that these proposals will bring about the sort of change that will deliver for local communities. In a sense that is our real concern. Every time the Government introduce changes to the planning system, it becomes more top-down, and is more like something from the old-fashioned eastern European central planning command economies. The point about bureaucracy was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, because we feel that the Government are trying to do too much. For the best of reasons, they are trying to plan and invest in too top-down a way—I am trying to prevent myself saying “social democratic”, but noble Lords will understand what I am saying.
Who is to put this together? One bit about the new regional strategy for the north-west which I did not read out concerns a new regional strategy advisory group that will be brought together to help the RDA and the leaders’ group put the new regional strategy together. A list of some 43 organisations is set out, one of which is the Government Office for the North West, but I do not see one that represents ordinary people who might want to get involved in the planning process. The Minister helpfully confirmed that the regional strategy will be part of the development plan. If it includes the RDA’s investment proposals, what possible confidence will people at the local level have in the planning system when they are told that the development plan itself, within which planning applications have to be determined, actually includes the detailed development plan for the region put together by the responsible regional authorities and which includes a detailed economic investment plan? They will have no confidence in it at all. If they say something is not right and they want it changed, they will be told, “Sorry, it’s in the document”.
This is not going to be just a planning document by which a development proposal or planning application has to be judged; the planning application itself will be for a development proposal which is in the development plan. That is where all this is becoming more centralised and more top-down, making it more difficult for anyone on the ground to make changes. No doubt we will have to consider these issues further.
I, too, thank the noble Baroness for that very full answer. I accept that any Government must have a strategy and that ways have to be found to build houses. I come at this from a different angle because we might be involved in it in a year or two. One has to make these things work.
I think that the Government have got it wrong. I agree with the noble Lord that it should be much more from the bottom up, wherever it ends up. I see how districts operate and the difficulties in the local framework. I wish that the Government had done it in a more bottom-up way. Telling people what to do the whole time will not work so well. Community people need to be involved. I tend to agree with bringing the strategies together for environmental, economic and social reasons. I wish the Government had thought of letting it grow from the bottom up, rather than trying to create overarching national things. That has not worked before with previous legislation and I do not think that it will work this time. The issue will have to be revisited. As I said, everyone has to have houses and homes must be created, so we need to think about how to do that.
I am sorry to say to the Minister that it will still not work. Thames Gateway, for example, involves three RDAs. The system has not worked in the past and it will not work in the future. I know that Thames Gateway has its own government systems but it is still dependent on working with the RDAs. There are plenty of other such examples around the country, which would be better organised from the bottom up. The Minister has not given us the answers that we wanted to hear.
I thank the Minister for her comments on housing strategy. I was not entirely sure whether the interpretation of her remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was correct. He suggested that a housing strategy will remain a separate exercise and undertaking at regional level, as now, but I understood the Minister to say that housing would be subsumed into a wider economic statement, which sounds as if it is downgrading it. Her remarks made it clear that if it were so subsumed it would have a prominent place within that economic plan.
Absolutely. Obviously a huge amount of work has gone into the regional spatial strategies in determining housing growth, where housing is needed. The figures change because of more demographic information but, like everything else, housing will be part of the regional economic strategy. All the intelligence and work that has gone into housing plans will be addressed within the RES. As it evolves, it will be easier to link the pressures for housing with the provision of infrastructure, skills and jobs. We will have a much more coherent picture of why housing is where it is and the other implications.
I, too, am grateful to the Minister for that long and detailed response. I have made quite a lot of notes, but I suspect that raising points again at this stage will not take the matter further forward. I thought that the Minister was being optimistic when she said that this debate had taken nearly an hour—that was 10 minutes ago. At this point, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 165C withdrawn.
Amendments 165D to 166ZB not moved.
166ZC: Clause 65, page 44, line 25, leave out subsection (3)
I hope that this group will take a bit less time. I shall also speak to Amendments 168B and 177C in the same group.
Amendment 166ZC is intended to probe the difference in the wording between the original Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and that which now appears in the Bill. Clause 65(3) states:
“In subsection (2)(a) and (b) references to the region include any part of the region”.
The legislation that it is more or less re-enacting, Clause 1(3) of the 2004 Act, says:
“In subsection (2) the references to a region include references to any area within a region which includes the area or part of the area of more than one local planning authority”.
I do not understand the reason for the change and what practical effect it might have.
I think that there is a more general point, which will perhaps stop me saying more today. A great deal of Part 1 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act is being re-enacted in Part 5 of the Bill, but there are quite a few changes. It would be helpful if those changes could be listed and explanations given for why they are taking place. It is only five years since we struggled over that Act, and if changes are now necessary we need to know why the wording has changed. Words matter in legislation.
Amendment 168B refers to a national park that crosses two or more regions. As it stands, the Bill says in effect that the Secretary of State may allocate that national park to one region. The amendment is probing to find out if that would be the normal case. I have been trying to think of national parks that will cross regional boundaries. The North York Moors probably does, and certainly the Peak District will; it will probably be in four different regions. If that is the case, it is not clear to me why the national park, which is such an important area, should not have a toe in the water in each of those regions and why it should have to be allocated to one of them, on whatever basis. If national parks are important, as they are, and part of a park is in a region, it ought to be part and parcel of the system for producing the regional plan in that region.
Amendment 177C probes what that little bit of the Bill means. I beg to move.
In the interests of speed, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to read Hansard in detail tomorrow. The amendments would restrict the ability of responsible regional authorities to have sub-regional policies, and I know that that is not what he is concerned about.
As I understand it, there are no substantive differences from the 2004 Act, but I will take his invitation to reply in writing about that so he can be clear. We can then pick up the question he raises in Amendment 177C as well.
With regard to Amendment 168B, the ability to specify which region should consider the issue in respect of a national park that crosses regional boundaries—and many do, such as the New Forest—is, frankly, common sense. National parks all need to be considered as a whole. It is wasteful for the south-east and the south-west region to duplicate work. A regional strategy that does not comply with national policy to take account of the level of resources available is going to lack all credibility, so it would be a waste of time to produce those amendments. That is a simple answer to the question I think he was raising, but I will write to him about the other issues and we will clarify that.
The Minister’s last comments were to an amendment that I thought I was talking to about an hour and a half ago. There is some confusion with the numbers and the groupings today.
I am grateful for her reply. Am I to understand, therefore, that the intention is that in every case the whole of the national park will be allocated to one region for this purpose? That is probably sensible in most cases, but I am not sure that it is sensible in the case of the Peak District. That might be thought about. I am grateful for that clarification and for the promise of sending us even more correspondence; I look forward to it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 166ZC withdrawn.
Amendments 166A and 166B not moved.
166C: Clause 65, page 44, line 34, leave out “so much of”
I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. If he wants me to, I shall be more than happy to do so.
The amendments are spread throughout this part, but they are all intended to make the same point: to either remove or qualify and restrict the powers that the Bill would give to the Secretary of State.
The Local Government Association states:
“As one of the central tenets of this piece of legislation is that authorities are empowered to work together to come up with a strategy best suiting to the local area, then it does not follow that the Secretary of State should have the power to amend or scrap the work that has been done and enforce an alternative Regional Strategy”.
Earlier, the Minister said that the Government want to keep central Government out of the process as much as possible. I have no doubt that she will assure us again of the Government’s good intentions, that these are reserve powers to be used only as a last resort, and so on.
However, the Bill gives the Secretary of State considerable powers—not just the present Secretary of State and not just the present Government, but any Secretary of State and any Government—for as long as it remains on the statute book. Therefore, I ask the Minister not simply to assure us of the Government’s good intentions, which we all readily accept, but to explain what safeguards local authorities have should we have a future Secretary of State and Government who wish to centralise or control rather more; it is hard to think that that may happen. If we pass the Bill as drafted, future Secretaries of State will have considerable powers to intervene if they should so wish or deem it necessary, with very little qualification or control to prevent their doing so.
As I have said in relation to so much local government legislation, we legislate for the worst councils—we have been debating that at great length throughout the Committee. I want some reassurance about how we prevent legislating for bad Governments. That is what I want to hear from the Minister: not the good intentions of this Government, which I happily accept, but how we safeguard local authorities from the bad intentions of future Governments. I beg to move.
We have two amendments in this group: Amendments 167 and 168. They are on very similar lines to those which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, just set out. I very much support his amendments, but ours specifically remove “Secretary of State” and insert, “regional development agency and Leaders’ Board”. Whatever we think of the new arrangements, at least that takes the powers away from the Secretary of State and leaves them more locally. Throughout the Bill, we have talked the whole time about the powers of the Secretary of State. I have done that during discussion of several pieces of legislation, but this time more than with others. I commend the amendments.
This is an important group of amendments. I know that noble Lords have raised these issues because they fear that the Secretary of State is going to use the powers to ride roughshod over the wishes of regional authorities. The amendments reflect that concern. I shall do my best to reassure noble Lords that this is not the case and to answer the questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, about how we can be sure that a bad Government would not do these things; rather like bad King John. I am not entirely certain that there will ever be such a bad Government.
The most important thing that I want to stress is that there is nothing new in these powers. With the exception of the powers attached to the leaders’ board, which are new, they are all powers that exist in broad terms under the PCPA. They are sometimes expressed in different language, but they are the same powers that cover the present regional spatial strategies. For example, the Secretary of State publishes the RSS, incorporating any changes she has made, and she puts it out to consultation. She can prepare an RSS if the regional planning body fails to do so; she can revoke all or part of an RSS if it is necessary and expedient to do so—which is exactly the same language—and she was given the power to prescribe how much of the pre-existing regional planning guidance would become the first RSS. These powers have not only not been abused—they are there as a last resort—but powers such as taking over the drafting of the RSS or revoking it, which is the most draconian power, have never been used, and we do not expect them to be used for the regional strategy. That is not to say it is not prudent to have them as a fall-back for the worst scenario.
The powers in the Bill are minimal, but are included to deal with two significant risks that might arise. First, despite all the good will and preparation for joint responsibility and duties between local and regional government, there is a real difficulty about what the strategy and the long-term vision should be. There could be disagreement between local authorities, RDAs and business, or there could be disagreement between urban and rural authorities. We have to ensure that there is an optimal strategy and, in the last resort, we need to have the power to arbitrate.
The second risk is that the regional strategy does not reflect government policy, by which I mean the imperatives that as a Government, we have to make sure that we have enough houses, a robust economy, the best education and skills policy and so on. In circumstances where somehow the regional strategy is reluctant to accept those broad imperatives and does not take account of the funding available, it is unlikely that it could be implemented. To be effective, this has to be a collective endeavour, and there must be partnership not only between local authorities, which will have so much more purchase and possibility under the new arrangements than they did under regional assemblies, but also between regional authorities and the Government. For example, if a strategy included the need for a new motorway to improve transport links, but no funding was available, there would be no point in having it in the strategy because it would not be deliverable. The Government have a responsibility to ensure that solutions can be found and strategies are thus effective.
In different ways, the amendments address all those concerns. This is not about some centralising agenda. These powers are based on arrangements currently in place for regional spatial strategies. The first reserve power to revise a regional strategy spells out the circumstances in which this power would apply: where the responsible regional authorities had failed to revise the strategy at the time specified in regulations or by a direction. In such unlikely circumstances, the Secretary of State could arrange for an EIP, must consult such persons as are considered appropriate and must take account of the EIP report and representations. The second power is the power to revoke, which has never been used. Both of the powers replicate existing reserve powers under Section 10 of the 2004 Act. We have had no reason to resort to either power.
If we did not have the power to revoke—the “necessary and expedient” power—the strategy could be revoked only through a further revision. There may be circumstances where a further revision would not be appropriate, so that is a practical reason. The Government, or some future Government, might want to move on from regional strategies as a policy tool, but they would be unable to do so without this power and they would remain in place. So there is a practical reason for this. Our expectation is that the partnership arrangements we put in place, the embedding of the local democratic conscience in local authorities and the leaders’ boards, will anticipate and deal with any problems, which is one reason why we have the EIP at the front end of the process. However, there must be a fall-back position. Amendment 180E would remove the power of the Secretary of State to make regulations on the single strategy. I know it is a probing amendment, but I can see that the noble Lord would agree that regulations are important when dealing with something as fundamental as this; for example, the arrangements for examination in public or the listing of statutory consultees. That is why we need the regulations there.
Amendments 167, 168, 166C, 166D, 177A and 177B all address the ability of the Secretary of State to resolve, if necessary, any significant contradictions between the existing strategies when they become the regional strategy. It is obvious that we want a smooth transition and this, again, is a fall-back power. We would expect that in almost every case the RES and RSS would, in combination, form the regional strategy without modification. A great deal of effort has gone into aligning the RES and the RSS. However, if there were differences, the RDA and local authority leaders’ boards would agree how they should be resolved and make recommendations to the Secretary of State. It is only at that point that the Secretary of State could make a direction to resolve those differences. As I say, this is a fall-back power.
There are amendments to remove the requirement for a direction and instead leave it to the RDA and local authorities to slog it out and decide which elements of the existing strategies would form the regional strategy. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, agree that the Secretary of State should not be involved, but feel instead that the existing regional economic and spatial strategies should stand as they are and that we should rely on the responsible regional authorities to work around any policy conflicts. I think we are all agreed that responsibility should rest with the RDA and the local authorities to sort out any contradictions, if they exist. However, it would not be right for the regional authorities to be able to amend the RSS without clearance from the Secretary of State, given that the RSS is published by the Secretary of State, having gone through a rigorous process to become part of the statutory development plan. It has been a partnership.
It is important that, as we move towards a single strategy as quickly as possible, there should be no unnecessary delays. We also have to consider that there may not be a leaders’ board in all regions at that point. The procedure set out in the Bill is designed to deal with that. I hope this reassures noble Lords that the existing strategies will normally become the regional strategy without modification and that only where there are serious differences of substance would any change be considered. In such cases, the process for resolving them should normally be bottom up.
Amendment 168A is on the same subsection, but has a different purpose. It seeks to resolve a perceived inconsistency in that changes to the RSS require a direction, while changes to the RES do not. That is because the RES has always had a different status; it is not signed off by the Secretary of State and is not part of the statutory development plan. Amendment 175ZA is closely related and requires the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a statement of her reasons for a direction under Clause 65(6) to specify which parts of the RSS and RES should become the regional strategy. This amendment was placed against the wrong clause, but reading it attached to this clause, while I sympathise with the desire for transparency, it is normal practice for the Secretary of State to explain reasons and intentions when issuing a direction. I hope that satisfies noble Lords.
Amendment 177D amends Clause 71 on matters to be taken into account when preparing draft regional strategy revisions. This adds a requirement for the Secretary of State to consult before making regulations specifying other matters that should be taken into account under Clause 71(1)(j). I have no issues with that. Transparency is very important, but the Secretary of State would normally consult on any draft regulations in this group. Finally, Amendment 179A would require the Secretary of State to consult the responsible regional authorities and so on as appropriate. The noble Lord seeks to ensure that regional authorities are consulted, and I have no quarrel with that, but it is rather counterproductive to the spirit of consultation as it would make the clause more specific about which persons the Secretary of State needs to consult before finalising further changes to the draft regional strategy. The current provision in Clause 72(3) states:
“The Secretary of State must consult such persons (if any) as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”,
in line with requirements under existing legislation, for example environmental assessment. It is a probing amendment, but I hope that that has been taken into account in my general response.
I am once again grateful to the Minister for her full reply, but she has not managed to reassure me about misuse by a less benevolent future Government. The fact that all these powers already exist and have never been used is not a reassurance that they will never be used, nor a reassurance regarding the circumstances in which they might be used. We are talking about a future Secretary of State and what he may or may not want to do. Clause 73(2) states:
“Before revising a regional strategy … the Secretary of State … may arrange for an examination in public to be held”—
“may” but not “must”. That is inconsistent with what was in the Bill earlier. I would not have it there at all so I am not advocating that it should say “must”. I just ask where the reassurance is made in that provision. Subsection (2)(b) states that the Secretary of State,
“must consult such persons (if any)”—
we do not have a long list of the persons to be consulted, as in other parts of the Bill. I seem to remember moving an amendment to include the words “if any” and having it roundly rubbished. The paragraph continues,
“as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”.
A malignant Secretary of State in some inconceivable future world may not have an examination in public. He may conclude that nobody is worth consulting and just rewrite the regional strategy. These may sound like far-fetched circumstances, and I hope that they are. I keep saying that we are legislating for worst-case scenarios, and I want to turn the tables and consider such scenarios from a local authority point of view. I am grateful to the Minister and not in the least surprised that she has failed to reassure me. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 166C withdrawn.
Amendments 166D to 168B not moved.
Clause 65 agreed.
Clause 66 : Leaders’ Boards
168C: Clause 66, page 45, line 7, leave out “must” and insert “may”
In this bumper bundle group I shall speak to Amendments 168E to 168G, 170A to 170E, 172AA, Clause 68 stand part and Amendment 180A in Clause 72. Further amendments have been tabled by my noble friend Lady Hamwee and from the Conservative Benches.
This group is about leaders’ boards, which is the new invention that we have to understand and perhaps love in Clause 66. They had not been dreamt up at the time of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, but are nevertheless now thought to be essential to maintain the system and prevent it collapsing.
As I understand it, leaders’ boards are a response to complaints about the democratic deficit that was threatened with the abolition of regional assemblies and the power to produce regional plans going to the regional development agencies. That would have allowed the RDAs to carry out their own investment proposals. At least we now have some balancing element in the form of the leaders’ boards. However, for a lot of people in the regions and their local authorities, it will be seen to entrench a remote, regional elite that has little connection with them, and hence some of my amendments.
We now have a leaders’ board in the north-west, which goes under the exciting name of 4NW. No doubt the person who dreamt this up had spent too much time texting and came up with this rather dismal name. Nevertheless, there it is. It is chaired, no doubt admirably, by the person they describe as “Lord Peter Smith”: the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh. We are perhaps ahead of the game in the north-west. We have this thing, although we do not yet have much experience of how it may work.
The amendment would remove “must” and insert “may” in setting up leaders’ boards. It would provide that leaders’ boards may be set up if local authorities in the region want them, but if they do not want them, they do not have to set them up. The Government say that they are forced to have leaders’ boards whether they like it or not. Amendment 168D questions whether a leaders’ board should ever be an incorporated body. I understand that it is intended—this is certainly mainly the case in the north-west, although there is some non-local authority representation on them—that a leaders’ board is a representative body of local authorities. As such, it is not clear to me why it should ever be a corporate body. It might be dangerous if it was. It is a step towards a new regional assembly-type body, but of a small and elite kind. The question is in what circumstances a leaders’ board might need to be incorporated. What might it need to do, given the other bodies in the region such as the regional development agency, the Government office and many more?
Amendments 168E, 168G, 170A, 170B and 170D would remove “participating”—perhaps I should have done it in other places, too—and insert “qualifying”. This is because most local authorities in big regions will never participate in this body; they qualify to participate. They are rather like people who are qualified to stand for local authorities. They do not participate in those local authorities unless they get elected. The Bill suggests that all local authorities are participating when they are instead only qualifying to be on the body, should they be chosen by whatever system there might be. Approximately two-thirds of local authorities in the north-west are not members of 4NW, and most of them are not likely to be.
Amendment 168F would define the membership. The Bill talks about leaders’ boards, and there is an assumption that it consists of leaders of local authorities, but it never says so. It does not say whether people who are not leaders can represent a local authority on a leaders’ board rather than the leader. If these bodies are going to exist, the membership should be clearly defined.
Amendment 170C probes the leaders’ boards’ funding. Clause 66(7) says:
“The Secretary of State may give such sums as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”.
Well, the Secretary of State may be generous in wanting to give out lots of cash to these bodies, but apart from that it is not clear how these bodies will raise whatever money they need.
This is a probing amendment to ask what scale of budget the Government anticipate these bodies will have. Amendment 170E probes whether the bodies will be able to put a levy on their participating or qualifying local authorities. Will they be able to impose a precept? I presume not, as that would require other legislation. However, will they be able to impose a compulsory levy on the councils in their region, or will councils be able to wash their hands and say, “We have no influence here, they’re going to do what they want, so we won’t have anything to do with it and we’ll save our money”? Those are important questions about the financing of leaders’ boards. I have no idea how the leaders’ board in the north-west is being funded. Presumably it is being paid for out of funds that were available for the regional assembly, by donations from the government office or by—
Lord Peter of Leigh.
I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, is going to fund it out of his personal income. However, these are important questions, which I do not think have been answered.
Amendment 172AA probes what responsibility the leaders’ boards will have to communicate with and get feedback from their constituent local authorities. If the system is going to work properly, it is vital that there is a good system of communication back to local authorities, so that local authority members have the opportunity to put forward their views through their representatives. In the north-west, this is done on a sub-regional basis, with five county areas each having three representatives but with different votes, so that, for example, Greater Manchester has more votes than Cumbria. That is a slightly odd system but, whatever the system is, we want proper communication both ways.
Finally, on the last group of amendments, the noble Baroness said that the reason why the Secretary of State has to have all this power is that he or she publishes the document. I tabled Amendment 180A to turn that the other way round. I believe that the regional authorities should publish the document, because they should own it. However, that goes with a different view of the development plan; I do not believe that the Secretary of State should have the power to approve or disapprove almost every element in the development plan right down to local level. I beg to move.
I have several amendments in this group, including Amendments 169 to 171, 182A and 182B. I do not want to go into enormous detail—the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has put some of the arguments well—but the amendments all probe questions about the leaders’ boards. I am sure that the Minister will tell us a lot about this in a moment, but we have not yet heard much about how the Government see leaders’ boards. In the eastern region, given that there are something like 50 authorities, there is a lot of discussion and argument about who will be on the board. I would like some clarification about whether the person has to be the leader or whether they could be the deputy leader. Exactly how do the Government see the arrangements to create the leaders’ boards?
Again, we have this sinister power of the Secretary of State, who will be able to sack leaders’ boards or rearrange them if he or she does not like them or thinks that they are not operating very well. If we are to have leaders’ boards, I do not think that the Secretary of State should be that involved with them once a decision has been made through the democratic process.
There will be problems in areas where there are lots of elections. London has elections every four years, as do counties, but many unitaries and districts have yearly elections, so there may be a change of leadership every year, especially in marginal authorities. That would mean that leaders’ boards would need to be reconstituted virtually every year. There must be some way of reflecting the political changes every time there are elections, and I hope that that has been taken into account. That is the gist of my amendments.
We have two amendments in this group: Amendments 169ZA and 169B. The first follows on from points made by my noble friend Lord Greaves. I have been concerned for some time that the Government’s concept of strong leadership carries with it weak everyone else. There is a danger that individual councillors who are not leaders may be squeezed out of, above all, information.
My Amendment 169ZA takes us on one stage from that, in that I fear that the leaders’ boards may squeeze out some parties. In the local government world—this is referred to in one of the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield—we are used to the arrangement that provides for the proportionality of political parties on any given council across its committees. I realise that I show my age, in political terms at any rate, in thinking in committee terms. Proportionality is important; it recognises the role that representatives of all political parties, not just those of the Administration, have to play. Amendment 169ZA would provide for the representation of all parties in participating authorities, including some sort of device to include independent members.
Amendment 169B continues the theme and would remove the Secretary of State’s role in approving the scheme for setting up the leaders’ boards. We make it perfectly clear that we think that it is a matter for the authorities. I probably need say no more about that.
This is an important group of amendments to which I shall try to do justice. The amendments fall into two main groups. The first concerns the rationale for the creation of the leaders’ boards, their viability, composition and the different roles of different partners. The second concerns the role of the Secretary of State. I shall deal with the amendments in their two groups and in the context of the clause stand part debate raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves.
The consultation on the SNR made it quite clear that leaders’ boards would be the key body representing the collective views of local government in a region, but the way in which they work and what they will look like will depend on each board. All that we have done is to set up some basic criteria which we expect to see met. They need to be streamlined and manageable to make strategic decisions, but to be representative of local government in the region and made up of leaders with the authority to act on behalf of the region. They are not leaders in the sense that we use for leaders of the council; they can be from the council, acting on behalf of the authority. It will be entirely up to the local authority to decide. That approach has been welcomed by the LGA.
The fall-back power, which allows the Secretary of State to agree the scheme produced in the region, is just that: a fall-back power, reflecting the ultimate responsibility that she has to ensure that leaders’ boards are effective and meet the basic criteria. It is very satisfying that most regions are getting on with establishing leaders’ boards. The chances of the Secretary of State not approving a scheme that has wide support are remote. One leaders’ board is already in place, the famous 4NW. Our latest information is that leaders’ boards will be established in the next two or three months in at least four more regions, which is excellent news. Rather than take noble Lords through the detail, I shall write to them to update them on what progress has been made and in which regions.
In probing this provision, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has to take into account the reality of the fact that leaders’ boards are already in place and in process, so he will not be surprised when I say that I cannot accept Amendment 168C, which would require that they should be optional. I will, however, answer his point about funding. We have already said that we will fund leaders’ boards to the order of £20 million a year to allow them to undertake their statutory responsibilities, just as we currently fund regional assemblies to carry out their functions on a regional planning body. They will not be allowed to levy a precept. Nor do we expect leaders’ boards to charge competent authorities for their work. I want to put on record the fact that, having established why we need leaders’ boards, we must accept that they need the resources to do the job.
I turn now to Amendment 168D, which seeks to remove the phrase “(whether or not incorporated)” from Clause 66(1). In line with our flexible approach, we have left it to the participating local authorities to decide the legal status of their leaders’ board so that it can best meet their requirements. The phrase clarifies that intention. If incorporated, for example, a leaders’ board would have a legal personality and could enter into contracts on its own behalf as well as employ staff. They would otherwise draw on staff employed by the participating authorities in the region.
Amendments 168E, 168G, 178A, 178B and 178D seek to replace “participating” authority with “qualifying” authority when referring to local authorities. Subsection (3) makes it clear that:
“For the purposes of this section, ‘participating authority’ means”,
district and county councils, including unitaries, as well as national park authorities and the Broads Authority. I take the point he made, and I have an additional note from my officials saying that “participating authorities” would make the scheme to establish leaders’ boards, so this must anticipate any question of who qualifies, which will be determined by the scheme drawn up by the local authorities.
Let me remind noble Lords of some of the criteria set out in the SNR document. One is that leaders’ boards should be streamlined, manageable, representative and composed of local authority leaders with sufficient authority to act on behalf of local areas. Amendment 168F could undermine those criteria by allowing leaders’ boards to include members from all local authorities and to allow non-leaders to be appointed as substitutes. The issue is how much detail about the composition of these boards should be included in primary legislation. The boards have to be effective and of a manageable size. In the north-east, it might be possible to include all the authorities, but there are 76 local authorities in the south-east. It is up to the boards how they manage functions. That does not rule out substitutes or even external stakeholders, but boards must be credible and have authority. I am afraid that if we were to accept the amendment, we might get bogged down in having to deal with detailed membership rules. We are aiming for flexibility.
Amendment 172AA also risks burdening leaders with blanket rules to require board members to consult local authorities that are not directly represented. Of course they should be able to do so, but we look to their schemes to see how they will achieve that. Consultation may be the answer. However, there may be other ways to do this.
I have spoken about the ability of boards to determine their own composition and how they work, which covers the provision suggested in Amendment 169ZA in relation to all political parties. The amendment would provide for all political parties to be represented on the boards, as well as a reasonable number of independent members. Many of my arguments about the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, apply here, but it is in essence for participating authorities to agree among themselves how they will allocate seats. What we expect to see and what is set out in the policy document is that leaders’ boards should reflect the political balance of leaders in the region.
On the Secretary of State’s powers in Amendments 169 to 170 and 169B, noble Lords have argued that it is not necessary to have the Secretary of State’s approval here because local authorities can be relied on to take a responsible and inclusive approach, and I agree. Therefore, I revert to the arguments that I made previously. The powers here are to be used in the event of a worst-case scenario. They are there as a fallback position, and it would be irresponsible not to allow for such powers. They are particularly relevant in order for everyone to be satisfied that the leaders’ board will be representative of the whole region.
Our final reason for believing that the leaders’ board needs to be formally signed off by the Secretary of State is that it will be a statutory body and a responsible regional authority. It will be in receipt of public funds, and it is only right and proper that it should be formally recognised as such by the Secretary of State. This is not a precedent. The power to approve the leaders’ board is the same as the current power of the Secretary of State to appoint a regional planning body under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.
Amendment 171 would remove the ability of the Secretary of State, by direction, to withdraw approval for the leaders’ board scheme in a region where it was not operating effectively. We would expect that power to be used extremely exceptionally where the operation of the board was significantly at variance with its approved scheme. I have just made clear the value that the Government place on the scheme, and it would not be consistent for the Secretary of State to approve it and then not to be able to ensure that it was subsequently adhered to.
Finally, I turn to Clauses 72 and 79. Clause 72 concerns what happens when the responsible regional authorities have prepared and published a draft revision of the regional strategy and submitted it to the Secretary of State. Amendment 180A to Clause 72 seeks to remove the requirement for the Secretary of State to publish any revisions and places this duty with the responsible regional authorities. I have just explained the importance of the Secretary of State’s approval role, and this applies equally to the publication of the document, which acts as the final sign-off.
None of these powers is new. A power for direction for regional development agencies already exists in Section 7(2) of the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998. In addition, as I said, there is a power of direction in relation to the revision of strategy in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.
I have gone through that at a fair pace, for which I apologise. However, I am anxious to address the amendments and to make progress, and I hope that my response has been sufficiently clear for noble Lords to feel that their questions have been answered.
I am going to withdraw Amendment 168C, although I should like to be satisfied that leaders’ boards will be representative of the whole region. Of course, it all depends on what you mean by the whole region. You could put the region into big areas and say that there was someone from there and therefore the boards were representative, but they will not really be representative. There will be a lot of councils. Most people will never have heard of the boards and will have no idea what is going on in their name until they discover what decisions they make.
I still do not understand why leaders’ boards need to be incorporated. 4NW has a staff structure chart on the internet and appears to employ 37 people. I am not sure how that works, as I am certain that it is not incorporated. I assume that they are the people who previously worked for the regional assembly, but I ask who employed them because that was not an incorporated body. Therefore, I do not know how it works, but perhaps someone can find out.
We will read with great care what the Minister said and see whether we want to bring back some of these issues. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 168C.
Amendment 168C withdrawn.
Amendments 168D to 169ZA not moved.
Amendment 169A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendments 169B to 172 not moved.
Amendment 172A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendment 172AA not moved.
172AB: Clause 66, page 45, line 33, at end insert—
“( ) Section 100 of the Local Government Act 1972 (c. 22) applies to meetings of the Leaders’ Board as if it were a committee of a local authority.”
As my noble friend said, Amendment 173B is grouped with Amendment 172AB. He said that he would say what he said, even though he did not know when we would reach it. I am grateful for his compliments, but I fully expect to hear from the Government that my amendment is not as full as it should be if I am to achieve what I am obviously setting out to achieve, because it should have referred to Schedule 12A as well as to Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972.
The objective of this not-quite-correct amendment is to require regional development agencies, leaders’ boards, and the two of them acting jointly, which is how responsible regional authorities are defined in Clause 67, to be subject to the same provisions as local authorities on access to information, agendas and meetings. I propose the application of this to regional development agencies outside as well as within the context of the Bill. The provisions of Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972 allow for certain matters to be exempt, which all three entities could take advantage of as local authorities do. However, one should start from the premise that all the business of the three types of entity should be open, subject to exclusions where the legislation provides for that.
I feel particularly strongly about this, having gone through experiences in London where the London Development Agency, which is a regional development agency, designed its agendas—this is my interpretation, having looked at how they were constructed—in such a way that all the confidential business happened at the start of the meeting. The meetings took place at 8 am because of the large number of business people who were contributing to the work of the LDA, and the non-confidential business was taken at the end. My guess was that, by that point, a number of main players would have gone on to their day jobs. I am not seeking to rubbish its contribution for a moment, but I do seek to argue that that is not the way to run public authorities.
What applies to local authorities should apply to leaders’ boards, which I hope is completely uncontentious. Their business will be of major importance to their areas, and the same goes for responsible regional authorities: the RDAs and the leaders’ boards acting jointly. The situation is a little better in London, but we started in 2000 with a number of members of the London Assembly sitting outside an LDA meeting to make the point that they were not admitted. That is absolutely wrong, but it creates quite a vivid picture, which I would not like to be replicated in the future. I would like all these bodies to be subject to the perfectly proper rules that local councillors have lived with for years.
I know how strongly the noble Baroness feels about these amendments, and based on her experience, I understand more. Amendment 172AB, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would insert:
“Section 100 of the Local Government Act 1972 … applies to meetings of the Leaders’ Boards as if it were a committee of a local authority”.
That would mean that all such meetings must be open to the public.
Amendment 173B is further reaching in its effect in two important respects. It refers to all the provisions of Part VA of the 1972 Act rather than to Section 100. As a consequence not only all meetings would need to be public but all papers, reports and minutes, as well as details relating to individual members of the board. It applies not only to leaders’ boards but to RDAs and responsible regional authorities.
It is important to recognise that we are not trying to create additional bureaucracy with leaders’ boards. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has been keen to ensure that we know his feelings on that. It is about representing local authorities working with RDAs, and we want those strategies to be developed in a way that is open, inclusive and appropriate. That is why we require the responsible regional authorities: to publish a statement of their policies for the involvement of all those who have an interest in the regional strategy; to comply with it; and to have an examination to test it publicly and rigorously. Those provisions have been built into the process for producing the regional strategy, which are as inclusive as for the RSS but which go further than for regional economic strategies and line up with the local development framework.
Because this is a new process, the leaders’ boards will work in different ways. They will be tasked specifically with hard work, much of which will be about analysis and negotiation with the RDAs on priorities. This is a very different situation and it would not be appropriate to apply the provisions of the 1972 Act to the leaders’ boards or the RDAs. Leaders’ boards will be established through an open process. A scheme will be made to establish them and they will be consulted on. While we do not intend to prescribe how that consultation will be done, the Secretary of State will consider whether it has been consistent with the Cabinet Office code. I expect them to conduct their business openly.
Regional assemblies generally meet in public. They include information of past and future meetings and papers and minutes on their websites. Leaders’ boards will also act transparently. The 4NW—the famous one—is already following similar procedures for public access to information to the former north-west regional assembly. The nature and detail of each of the boards’ constitution and governance will be for the participating local authorities to decide. That may vary between regions. Therefore, we do not feel that it would be right to prescribe detailed arrangements. Nevertheless, local authorities and their leaders will be subject to Part VA of the 1972 Act and the Freedom of Information Act. The activities of the leaders’ boards and members of the participating authorities will be subject to the relevant provisions.
RDAs are committed to openness and are subject to the Freedom of Information Act. They follow the model publication scheme produced for the information commissioner. Yorkshire Forward, for example, publishes the agenda for each board meeting as well as board minutes on its website. RDAs are not authorities for the purpose of the Local Government Act. As the noble Baroness knows, Part VA would not be appropriate.
In summary, my argument is that they are different animals and will work in different ways. While I accept the noble Baroness’s concern, rather than imposing a detailed and possibly inappropriate process on all the responsibilities, we want to ensure that the process is inclusive and transparent. We have done that in the ways I have suggested. That approach has worked well in the past in involving communities. If we went further, I believe that we would end up with more bureaucracy. We would have inflexibility and not necessarily greater transparency.
The Minister used the phrases, “open, inclusive and appropriate” and “inclusive and transparent” but I cannot make the conceptual leap from what she said to the resistance to this amendment. Admitting the public and ensuring that papers are open to them becomes bureaucratic when one has to put in a lot of Freedom of Information Act requests. They should be the last not the first resort. They are new arrangements, so to my mind we should get them right from the beginning.
I will have to read what the noble Baroness said about leaders’ boards to understand what happens when a leaders’ board which applies these rules and an RDA which does not do so join together as a responsible regional authority. That would be a separate entity. However, I feel an amendment on Report coming on.
Amendment 172AB withdrawn.
Clause 66 agreed.
Clause 67 : Responsible regional authorities
Amendment 172AC not moved.
Committee adjourned at 7.36 pm.