Local Government (Best Value) Performance Indicators and Performance Standards Order 2002

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Mr. Foster: And the grammar?

Mr. Leslie: The hon. Member for Mole Valley mentioned the bureaucratic nonsense.

Mr. Foster: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Leslie: I must make progress. The hon. Member for Mole Valley talked about the bureaucratic nonsense that he sees in the imposition of performance indicators.

Mr. Foster: On a point of order, Mr. Atkinson. Will you advise us whether it would be in order for the Committee to pass a statutory instrument if it were found to have relevant grammatical errors?

The Chairman: Order. That is not a question for the Chairman, but for the Committee.

Mr. Leslie: And it is not necessarily a question for the Minister, although I am confident about the wording of the order. I am sure that it makes sense to those what understand these matters. [Laughter.]

The hon. Member for Mole Valley is not being generous enough in recognising the virtues of the order. We are trying to reduce the number, which is important. As I said, the Audit Commissioner had more than 200 performance indicators when he was a Minister, which shows us how reducing the numbers can be more helpful to local authorities. The hon. Gentleman makes important points about law and order. However, the order does not include police service indicators, about which he complained. It is therefore not appropriate to talk about those today. The results in the indicators are not wholly focused on process. The hon. Gentleman mentioned one from schedule 6, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North pointed out, the other five in that schedule are highly focused on outcome. He says that we should focus on poorly performing authorities. That is precisely what best value indicators do.

Sir Paul Beresford: Another problem was logic. Performance indicator No. 5 in schedule 7 says:

    ''The number of kilograms of household waste collected per head.''

Is a local authority better if it collects more, or less? With regard to performance indicator No. 2, many people are in favour of composting, but many local authorities, especially those in rural areas, are trying to persuade their residents to compost in their own back garden rather than permit, or even insist, that the local authority does it.

Mr. Leslie: There is significant logic to collecting less waste that cannot be recycled and must be sent to landfill. Waste minimisation is an important principle, with which I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees. We want to recycle more and that is why the targets have been set down.

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The order reduces the number of best value performance indicators and, all in all, creates a far more efficient and effective system for performance management in local authorities. It focuses on continuous improvement; I commend it to the Committee.

5.45 pm

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I regret that I failed to follow the usual courtesies earlier by not welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Atkinson, or the Minister to his new job—although it is the second time in a week that we have sparred across the Committee Room. Both occasions have demonstrated that the Government are producing ever more centralising measures. Whether or not the word that my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley used was correct, the import of what he said is true. Local authorities should be able to exercise their discretion; the Minister said that he wanted local targets, but he cannot have local and national targets. If we did, we would run into a plethora of bureaucratic targets for everything that we do.

The Minister could not say whether we would have an annual, biannual or quinquennial order but he will need to consider the matter carefully. Priorities change and the targets will become out of date within a year; he therefore needs to look at how often the matter is reviewed. I repeat that some of the indicators are badly written. The Minister quoted my example of item 11 of schedule 3. Of course we are all interested in special needs—what politician could fail to be interested in them? My point is that the indicator is badly drafted. It asks for a percentage of statements and then excludes some cases and includes others. If one wants to know how many statements are excluded, one should just ask that question; one should not ask for a percentage of statements and then qualify that.

Another example of a badly written indicator is item 1 of schedule 6:

    ''Security: whether the authority has a written and pro-active strategy for combating fraud''.

If an authority does not have a written and proactive strategy for combating fraud, the Audit Commission will be after it. The item continues,

    ''which embraces specified initiatives including those sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions, which is communicated regularly to all staff.''

Again, if an authority does not comply with directives issued by central Government, the Audit Commission will soon want to know. In addition to that, what is the point of communicating every Government initiative to all staff? It would, for example, be a complete waste of paper and time to communicate initiatives on work and pensions to members of a local authority who work in the planning department. Some of the indicators are badly drafted and the Minister will need to return to them.

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Mr. Foster: On the issue of badly drafted indicators, the Minister could not give me an opinion on the grammar of schedule 7, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman could do so.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: When I was on the Environment Committee, the phrase ''waste arisings'', which is a technical term, arose regularly. While the hon. Gentleman wants plain English in this and every statutory instrument—

Mr. Foster: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: In a moment.

The term is a technical one, which those involved with waste collection will understand.

Mr. Foster: I refer also to the use of ''have'' in the schedule to refer to ''percentage''; ''has'' would be more appropriate. Indeed, it is the only correct word to use in that context.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: On that matter, the hon. Gentleman may well be correct. It is perhaps another reason why he may want to turn up next year—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman will listen to me for a moment, I will tell him that he may press the Minister for an annual order so that we may return to a similar Committee in a year's time to correct such grammatical errors.

We need more flexibility in the best value regime. We want to encourage the worst councils to come up to the standards of the best. I urge the Minister to do that by encouraging the best value inspection service to target the worst-performing authorities—and to continue targeting them. If they do not improve, the service should go back and demand to know why not. If, as the Minister says, 50 per cent. of those targets are subject to improvements, I am surprised that special orders have been taken against only two councils. We should be much more proactive against those worst-performing councils. Every citizen is entitled to expect a good level of local service from their council.

The Opposition think that the best value regime is too bureaucratic. It is too expensive. It is too onerous, particularly on councils that are performing well. We shall look carefully to see how the Government could reduce the bureaucratic requirements and the costs. That £175 million is not producing the improvements that we are entitled to expect for that huge sum. The Government need to look carefully at that. Having listened carefully to what the Minister had to say, we shall not vote against the order. However, we shall watch what the Government do. We may want to revisit the subject and vote against it in future.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the Local Government (Best Value) Performance Indicators and Performance Standards Order 2002 (S.I. 2002, No. 523).

Committee rose at nine minutes to Six o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
Atkinson, Mr. Peter (Chairman)
Allen, Mr.
Beresford, Sir Paul
Clifton-Brown, Mr.
Foster, Mr. Don
Gilroy, Linda
Lepper, Mr.

Column Number: 26


Leslie, Mr.
McCabe, Mr.
Marshall-Andrews, Mr.
Organ, Diana
Sanders, Mr.
Woodward, Mr.
Woolas, Mr.

 
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