Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1120 - 1139)



  1120. I am glad you said that because that brings me to the next point and it relates to capacity and accountability. What the Government said in the Green Paper on Local Government was that local government should become community leaders.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  1121. Now it seems to me there is capacity within the whole local authority—as opposed to the sections of that authority which are deprived—which has got the capacity to deal with those services and there is the clear accountability role there. It does not seem to me that the way that Central Government funds local government joins up those needs within those communities.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You mean the way it funds—

  1122. Through the SSA system. I appreciate there is an ongoing examination of that, but you get many authorities which have quite deprived areas and yet which do not get anywhere near the same amount of money from the SSA system as other authorities which do not show the same level of deprivation. There is a problem there of part financing specific programmes through mainstream local government financing; if you deliver monies for programmes, because quite a lot of those programmes are 90 per cent, 75 per cent funded and therefore require the balance of funding from the mainstream of the local authority financial settlement.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Or sometimes from other statutory agencies.

  1123. I appreciate that, yes. That then leads you to the problem of how do you continue to provide the services for the other services which are not targeted on deprived areas?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Sure.

  1124. What happens is those communities feel much more left out of it and resentful.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes. How do we deal with that is the question?

  1125. Yes, that is right.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If you have brought your mainstream programme up to a higher standard than at present in relation to deprived areas that will make some contribution to that. The other way, obviously, and this is not—

  1126. That is not what is happening at the moment. What is happening at the moment is funding for those deprived areas is having to take money from the other mainstream areas, because there are not the sufficient additional monies going into the area to be able to combat deprivation and maintain and improve the services elsewhere.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I accept that is not happening at the moment but in relation to mainstream programmes, one of the consequences of the spending review in the middle of last year was that mainstream programmes would have to improve from their own resources the service they provide in relation, for example, to health and education in deprived areas, hopefully on the basis of not taking the money from the undeprived areas. It seems to me that comes from the Government intervention in deprived areas cross-cutting review in the middle of last year. That, although it is not happening at the moment, to some extent meets the point that you are making so that we share the same aspiration there and the Government has done something to try and achieve it.

  1127. I look forward to success there.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  1128. Can I just go on to another issue, about letting go. One of the problems with Central Government is that ministers want to make sure that they get the credit for whatever happens and civil servants want to get credit for putting that programme in. The reality is that it is only on the ground where that success you are achieving will actually happen.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Sure.

  1129. The best way of doing that is what you said, to have the capacity within the community so they can make those achievements.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  1130. That stretching of the dichotomy between those two is a major problem.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You mean between Central Government's desire to be—

  1131.—wanting to hang on and local communities being the drivers to making the achievements we want.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  1132. Now, I think central government has got to recognise that and do an awful lot more letting go than has happened up to now and I do not just mean politicians, I mean the whole administration, Whitehall as well.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes. I think there is a considerable amount in what you say in relation to that. The nature of our democracy is bound to lead, is it not, to the sorts of pressures on the way that Central Government operates. Quite rightly, there is an electoral cycle of four or five years then Central Government, whichever Government is in power, has got to be active and be seen to be doing things. What is more, the electoral cycle and changes in Government provide an impetus for real change so without it you would not get pressure from the centre which is appropriate from time to time to effect real change. But things that transform deprived communities over the long term tend to be much more gradual and tend to much slower processes about capacity building, about reviving economies over a period of time and about reviving people's self-esteem over a long period of time which quite frequently has nothing whatsoever to do with individual programmes.

Mr Trend

  1133. In the spirit of Fawlty Towers I will try hard not to mention the Dome. I still find it hard to understand quite what the Unit is supposed to do. You mentioned earlier that it was your intention to bite a certain part of the cycle. What does that mean? Can we start by asking what staff do you have? What is your budget? How do you get it?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The Government Offices have a budget of I think £80 million. The Unit itself has a budget of six million pounds and has a staff of 50. Let me give you an example of the things it does. One of the problems, and this is the most obvious problem, too many initiatives with too many application forms and too much monitoring. One thing they have achieved is they have persuaded a number of departments with initiatives to merge them into existing initiatives so that instead of the people on the ground having to apply for three lots of packets of money, it is just one. It is that sort of thing. It lacks high profile sexiness but it is that sort of cultural change where people within Central Government look to see "Can I join in with somebody else's arrangements? How do I make it easier to deliver on the ground?" that is the job of the Unit.

  1134. You are more likely to be approached by somebody from Whitehall than say by somebody from one of the regional offices, Government Offices saying "Can you give us a hand with this?"
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Our role is to be proactive in Central Government to ensure that the burden of initiatives is kept to a minimum as far as the outside world is concerned. Our role is also to develop the role of the Government Offices as somebody who in service delivery terms is able to try to co-ordinate what Central Government is doing.

  1135. Do you actually have any formal power over any of these organisations?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I have no formal power—

  1136. As Minister?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No I have no formal power over the departments delivering health or delivering education or delivering local authority activity. My only power ministerially is as the minister responsible day to day for the Regional Co-ordination Unit. Picking up the Chairman's point, in a sense his question was do all these new initiatives have to go through the Unit, answer "Yes, they do". The only power ultimately will be if one actually said no to a particular initiative.

  1137. When will that happen?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not know.

  1138. Does the Unit have regional offices or is it all based in Whitehall?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The Regional Co-ordination Unit is based entirely in Whitehall. The Government Offices, obviously, are based at regional level.

  1139. Do all the people working in it sit together?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They all sit together in Riverwalk House just on the river. They are in the same building as the Government Office for London.

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