Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence



Examination of witnesses (Questions 60 - 67)

TUESDAY 6 MARCH 2001

SIR MICHAEL LYONS and MR STEWART DOBSON

Chairman

  60. Local government, when do you think it was abolished?
  (Sir Michael Lyons) Local government is still very vigorous and always will be in this country. It does not depend on the patronage of central government; it depends on the will of local people to have a say in their own future. It might be changed in its form or its way of working but it is not something that can be abolished.

  61. You do not think it has become local administration?
  (Sir Michael Lyons) No, I do not. I do not dismiss your point. There are some changes over recent years which have taken away the same autonomy: funding regimes which are service specific and the passporting of funds to authorities on the clear undertaking they can only be spent on particular services—it has become more restricted. Room for local discretion has, in places, become more limited, but I do not think local government is any less vital now than at any point in the past.

  Chairman: Do you think the volumes coming out from the Department of how you should do your job have helped?

Sir Paul Beresford

  62. Can you add best value to this as well?
  (Sir Michael Lyons) Could I ask you to change that question. If you asked me if they have helped that would be a difficult question for me to answer!

Chairman

  63. These constitutions you are going to have to submit to the government, how long do you expect government to take to scrutinise them?
  (Mr Dobson) Under the legislation our obligation is simply to submit them; we do not actually have to wait for them to be approved or checked. We will be submitting two by the end of June.

Mrs Dunwoody

  64. A sort of either/or!
  (Mr Dobson) Yes. To use the language of the Act, they will be our "proposals" and our "fall-back proposals". It is the language of the Act, and not my choice. In the referendum the people of Birmingham will be choosing between these two constitutions.

Chairman

  65. The Government will not have another role to play; it will not be able to tinker with your constitutions?
  (Mr Dobson) Obviously they will have the opportunity to look at our constitutions, and our consultation statement etc. If they believe we have not consulted adequately or we have put together a constitution which is incompatible with the Act, then there are powers to intervene. We do not however have to sit back and wait for them to approve our constitution.

  66. Do you not think really we could have got rid of an awful lot of this central direction of local government and actually returned local government to the opportunities to decide how they want to actually run local government?
  (Sir Michael Lyons) That is an interesting question, is it not. It really depends on how satisfied one is with local government, or one was with local government before the changes took place. Certainly the current government and its predecessor both felt they had a mandate to improve the performance of local government and that ranked very high on both agendas. I have to say that I can understand why. At its best local government is very good, but there are some profound weaknesses in performance up and down the country. I think it is a difficult answer really. I think one could design a framework which had a lighter touch in terms of demanding change. I think the current experimentation with Public Service Agreements offers a model of a formal contract between government and individual authorities to meet certain targets and, in return, to be allowed certain freedoms. If you could amplify that to a five-year contract with government often considerable freedom over that period, I think you would have something which we could all be proud of.

  67. Should the contract be between the local authority and government or between its electors?
  (Sir Michael Lyons) Essentially, between the electors but that is a difficult contract to develop. There have been proxies for that in the attempts to try to get the council to work with other agencies and in some of the thinking behind the original City Pride experiments.

  Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very much for your evidence.


 
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