Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 89) (HC 415) on Children's Services (Quality Protects) Special Grant Report for 2000-01 and 2001-02

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Dr. Pugh: I am grateful for that response, but we would all accept that the one thing that social services, particularly children's social services, require is an element of predictability on forthcoming funding. The Minister said earlier that the basis on which the awards will be given would vary as SSAs are phased out. That will create a further feeling of uncertainty among local authorities. The sums are significant, so will she be giving early guidance to local authorities on what may happen during the next two to three years? It would be helpful and enable them to plan.

Jacqui Smith: In the circular that my Department issued to accompany the local government settlement, we gave some ideas about the future of all the special grants. The hon. Gentleman is right that it is important to give certainty of funding over a period. The Government's approach to three-year spending review periods has been important in providing certainty about resource increases for local authorities.

The hon. Member for Cheadle raised several issues. I have covered the allocation issue. She asked on whose judgment the evaluation of MAPs was made. It was made on the professional judgment of the social services inspectorate, but it does not affect the allocations. The evaluation determines whether the grant should be paid, not how much particular authorities should receive, although we would want to consider in the light of our input to the local government White Paper, the extent to which high-performing local authorities could have more freedom and flexibility on how they spend resources allocated by central Government.

The hon. Lady asked why one special grant covers part of 2000-01 as well as 2001-02. With one exception, the special grant report covers the financial year 2001-02. The exception is the quality protects regional development worker grant, which will be paid to Westminster city council. The worker took up post in March 2001, but payment from 1 March to 31 March 2001 was not covered by the previous grant report and could not be paid within the relevant financial year.

The hon. Member for Mole Valley argued for a reduction in ring fencing, which is when we began to see some discord among Opposition Members. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has read the local government White Paper and will know that there is an intention to move to a reduction in ring fencing, on the basis of earned autonomy, to ensure that local government is revitalised.

The fact that a special grant is allocated to ensure a focus on children's services does not limit the use of mainstream funding. The significant increases in overall personal social services resources will also find their way into children's services. Mention was made

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of flexibility for year ends. In exceptional circumstances, that could include the special grant report, so flexibility is provided.

Mr. Wilshire: Can we be clear about that? As I understand it, the report states that there is no flexibility. Is the Minister now saying, for the record, so that councils can point to the debate should they need flexibility, that, notwithstanding the words that we are being asked to approve, there will be flexibility? I hope that the answer is yes. If it is, the Hansard record will serve its purpose.

Jacqui Smith: I was not saying anything different from what is in the special grant report. I was accepting that there may be a case for considering flexibility in the light of the hon. Gentleman's points about the need for certainty for local authorities.

On full market value, there will need to be an ultimate arbiter, but the Secretary of State would decide that value on the basis of advice. On repayment to central Government, money would be reclaimed if the auditor did not certify that the money had been spent on the correct purposes, although in previous years that has related only to underspends.

We have had a full debate that my hon. Friends have thoroughly enjoyed. I emphasise that quality protects has been successful and has widespread support from local government, the voluntary sector, children and young people. Most importantly, it is leading to improved outcomes and will continue to do so.

Tim Loughton: Will the Minister give way?

Jacqui Smith: I have finished my speech.

Tim Loughton: An awful lot of questions remain unanswered.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): Churlish.

Tim Loughton: The Committee will be disappointed that the contributions of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) have been purely from a sedentary position, which is presumably because it is rather harder to write Christmas cards when standing.

I bring the Minister back to the interesting point made by the hon. Member for Cheadle. The special grant report seems to have been signed by three people who are unable to join up their letters. Although that may be true of the Secretary of State and two of the Whips, is it in order for the report not to have been signed by the people presumably purporting to be the signatories?

The Chairman: The report would not be before us if it were not in order. If the matter were in question, it should have been raised before the sitting.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 89) (HC 415) on Children's Services (Quality Protects) Special Grant Report for 2000-01 and 2001-02.

Committee rose at twelve minutes to Six o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
O'Brien, Mr. Bill (Chairman)
Allen, Mr.
Beresford, Sir Paul
Calton, Mrs.
Chaytor, Mr.
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs.
Ennis, Jeff
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flynn, Paul

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Kirkbride, Miss
Loughton, Tim
Love, Mr.
Perham, Linda
Prentice, Mr.
Pugh, Dr.
Smith, Jacqui
Wilshire, Mr.

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