Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum by the Minister for Local Government and the Regions (AP 01)

  When I appeared before the Urban Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday 4 December there were a number of points raised that I said I would follow-up or answer in writing.

What assessment has been made of the total annual cost of regional assemblies?

  The Government will publish a White Paper on regional governance in the New Year, which will include our proposals for Elected Regional Assemblies. The White Paper will address the costs of our proposals.

  Regional chambers are existing bodies, which have been established voluntarily by bodies representing the interests of the region. Their running costs are a matter for the chambers and their members. The Government has, however, allocated £500,000 this year to each chamber, and £1 million to the chambers collectively, to help them establish a stronger strategic and scrutiny role within their regions. The Government Offices are holding regular monitoring meetings with the chambers. At the end of each financial year, the £500,000 (and the collective £1 million) will be subject to an external audit.

Department's evaluation of two-tier local government—what is the cost?

  As my predecessors reported in their responses to the Committee's earlier questions about the total cost of structural reform, it would involve disproportionate cost to calculate the overall costs and benefits of local government reorganisation. However supplementary credit approvals issued between 1994-95 and 2000-01 were intended to assist new unitary authorities with the funding of their set-up costs, until savings and receipts could be realised. It was expected that in the longer term the benefits would offset the costs.

  The total amount of the Capital Reorganisation Costs (SCAs issued) between 1994-95 to 2000-01 were £492.324 million.

  Local authorities reported the net current expenditure on reorganisation (including expenditure funded by specific grant) between 1993-94 to 2000-01 (outturn figures 1993-94 to 1998-99 budget figures 1999-2000 to 2000-01) as £131.037 million.

Costs of inspection—by the Audit Commission? (OFSTED, Social Services Inspectorate etc)

  The costs identified below are Inspectorate costs only, and are representative of the major Inspectorates who are working in the local government field. Sponsoring departments generally fund their costs. However the costs of the BVIS and District Audit is not all centrally funded—much of it is recovered in fees, with RSG being boosted to cover local authority costs.

  Other bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will have some involvement with local government, but figures for this are not readily identifiable or available.

  The figures do not include any element of the costs to authorities of inspection, as no agreed or reliable figures are available to us on this. Only District Audit and inspection by the Best Value Inspection Service includes a fee element.

Audit Commission/Best Value Inspection Service

  Audit Commission District Audit and Best Value Inspection costs for the audit year 2001-02 are likely to be in the region of £194 million. Best Value Inspection costs represent a £44 million component of this figure which includes £21.7 million in direct grant paid by DTLR. However, District Audit activity includes a lot of functions which would not normally be termed "inspection". The Audit Commission will be consulting on 2002-03 fees in March.

Social Services Inspectorate

  In 2001-02 SSI inspections cost £5.2 million. £4.5 million of this related to inspection of social services functions that are the responsibility of local councils. The other £0.7 million covered inspections of voluntary children's homes, voluntary adoption agencies and secure accommodation in support of the Secretary of State for Health's regulatory responsibilities for these services. In addition SSI undertakes a range of other activities with local councils with social services responsibilities through eight regional offices at a cost of a further £5 million. This includes monitoring their performance in delivering for social care, assessing and making judgements about their overall performance and undertaking a range of other business on behalf of the Department of Health.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary

  Spend in 2000-01 was £6,635,199. The equivalent budget for 2001-02 is £7,776,000 although a change in Home Office accounting practice this year means that the HMIC total budget is £8,019,000.

Benefit Fraud Inspectorate

  The total running costs for BFI in the last three years is estimated at around £6 million per year.

HM Fire Service Inspectorate

  £1,660,000 for the period 2001-02.

Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED)

  The total direct cost (ie excluding overheads) of LEA inspections in 2000-01 amounted to about £2.3 million. The best value element is not costed separately but it represents a small proportion. Of the total, almost half was paid to the Audit Commission for their contribution to the inspections.

How much has staffing increased at the Audit Commission?

  The following are the Audit Commission Staff (including District Audit, Inspection and Central Directorates) number increases for the period covering 30 November 1999 to 30 November 2001:

Date
Staff No (Full-Time)
+/- Differentials
30 November 1999
1,611
n/a
30 November 2000
2,151
+540
30 November 2001
2,314
+163


Who approves wording for local referenda ballot papers?

  The wording of Mayoral referendums is prescribed in regulations. The Electoral Commission was not consulted when this form of words was first prescribed (2 April 2001, under the Local Authorities (Conduct of Referendums) (England) Regulations 2001—SI 2001/1298) because the requirement that the Commission be consulted was not then in force. In the light of the experience of the first referendums we intend to consult the Electoral Commission on the prescribed form of words, and bring forward amending regulations if necessary.

  Section 104 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 provides that any referendum question which is included in primary or secondary legislation (such as the question to be put in the Euro referendum) must be subject to consideration by the Electoral Commission. The Commission is required to consider the wording and publish a statement of their views on its intelligibility.

Total cost of local government modernisation in comparison with NHS modernisation?

  Local authorities are not required to provide returns to the Department identifying separately the total costs and benefits of modernisation. The Department has commissioned extensive research to evaluate the medium and longer-term impacts of local government modernisation policies. Further details can be seen at http://www.local.dtlr.gov.uk/research/index.htm. This website provides access to research reports and findings produced by the Department on all aspects of policies relating to the Local Government Modernisation Agenda. Specifically, it contains a report entitled, "The feasibility of evaluating the impacts of the local government modernisation agenda", which describes the Department's evaluation programme. There is no comparative study of local government and NHS modernisation costs and benefits.

When the number of Scottish Constituencies would be reduced and where ministerial responsibility for this rests

  This is a matter for the Secretary of State for Scotland. A reduction in the number of Scottish constituencies is provided for in the Scotland Act 1998. Section 86 of that Act removed the requirement guaranteeing a minimum of 71 Scottish seats and requires the Boundary Commission for Scotland in its next report to apply the electoral quota for England. The effect of this would be likely to reduce the number of Westminster seats from the current 72 to around 56 to 60. The Boundary Commission for Scotland commenced its fifth periodical review in June 2001 and is required to report to the Secretary of State for Scotland between December 2002 and December 2006.

  The Scotland Act also provides that the constituencies for Holyrood are identical with Westminster with the exception of Orkney and Shetland and fixes the ratio of constituency and top-up MSPs. That means that the Boundary review will automatically lead to a reduction in the size of the Scottish Parliament from its present 129 members to around 102. However, on 6 November, the Secretary of State for Scotland announced at Scottish Questions her intention to launch a public consultation exercise on the size of the Scottish Parliament.

Nick Raysford

10 January 2002


 
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