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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 105) On Invest to Save Budget Round 4 Projects and Local Government On-line

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Second Standing Committee

on Delegated Legislation

Monday 22 July 2002

[Mr. Edward O'Hara in the Chair]

Local Government Finance (England)

Special Grant Report (No. 105) on Invest to Save Budget Round 4 Projects and Local Government On-Line

4.30 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. I refer to the point of order that I made at 3.28 pm in the debate in the Chamber on Thursday 18 July, at column 476. I raised it to highlight the fact that the statutory instrument had not been printed even then. Indeed, I gather that the Library could not find a copy of it. The statutory instrument is not urgent, but this is not an orderly way to conduct the business of the House. Indeed, the Department did the House a discourtesy by not having the statutory instrument printed earlier, particularly as it was it laid before the House on 9 July. As you will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker ruled:

    ''I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving notice of his important point of order. I note that the statutory instrument was laid before the House on 9 July. It follows that there should be at least one copy in the Library''.

At that time, I was unaware that there was no copy in the Library. He continued:

    ''If, as the hon. Gentleman says, a supply of fully printed copies is not yet available in the Vote Office nine days after the laying of the document, that is indeed most regrettable. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's point will be noted, and that action will be taken as quickly as possible.''—[Official Report, 18 July 2002; Vol. 389, c. 477.]

Within an hour, the document had mysteriously appeared. None the less, the Department's actions are still a gross discourtesy to the House, and it should do better. Indeed, this is not the first time that it has shown us such discourtesy, and vital maps and impact assessments have not been made available to us when we were discussing other statutory instruments. If Ministers intend to introduce large numbers of statutory instruments, they should at least do the House the courtesy of producing proper supporting documents.

On a further point of order, Mr. O'Hara.

The Chairman: Order. I shall deal first with the hon. Gentleman's initial point of order, which I allowed him to make in full, although, as he may have noted from my body language, I was about to cut him off because he was beginning to generalise. His point of order is not a matter for me; all that concerns me is that the House has instructed the Committee to consider the statutory instrument and me to conduct the proceedings. He may wish to pursue his point of order elsewhere, but it might be helpful if the Minister were to comment.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Christopher Leslie): Further to that point of order, Mr. O'Hara. I

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understand that there was an error in printing the report and supplying it to the Vote Office. As soon as it was highlighted, however, we swiftly ensured, as the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) said, that the documentation was provided. I would not regard that as a deliberate discourtesy by the Department, because, ultimately, it was a mistake by officials. None the less, I hear what he says about ensuring that we pay more attention to the details and to supplying paperwork, and I shall certainly discuss the issue with officials.

The Chairman: This is not a point of order, but the comments of the hon. Gentleman and the Minister are on the record.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: On a further point of order, Mr. O'Hara. I understand that the statutory instrument has not been scrutinised by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, so I do not see how we can proceed when the proper procedures have not been followed. I seek your ruling on whether we can postpone consideration.

The Chairman: No, we cannot postpone. I repeat that the Committee has been instructed to consider the statutory instrument and that I have been instructed to conduct the proceedings. If the hon. Gentleman wants to raise points of order about that, he must do so elsewhere.

4.34 pm

Mr. Leslie: I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 105) on Invest to Save Budget Round 4 Projects and Local Government On-Line.

The recent local government White Paper, ''Strong Local Leadership—Quality Public Services'', set out our vision for modern, efficient and accountable local government. The invest to save budget—ISB—and the local government online programme—LGOL—through which we today seek Parliament's approval to pay grant to local authorities, are excellent examples of how we intend to help councils to meet the challenges set out in the White Paper.

I shall briefly set out the four purposes for which we wish to pay grant under the report. The first is to pay grant under round 4 of the Treasury's invest to save budget, which aims to develop projects that bring together two or more public bodies to deliver services innovatively and more efficiently. The priorities for funding are projects that involve the electronic delivery of services; have a citizen-focused approach, gearing services to the needs of particular user groups, such as the elderly; and/or tackle the root causes of social problems, such as drug abuse or truancy.

Of the £60 million available under round 4 of the invest to save budget, some £21.7 million is being made available to support 23 local authority-led projects. The individual allocations are set out in part one of annexe A to the report. Most projects have significant e-government elements. Examples of those to which we provide funding under the report include the inter-agency drug action exchange project in West Sussex and, in Basildon, the social services-oriented project called in your place, which will ensure that social services staff using information technology can

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link all the different requirements for assistance in homes.

The second purpose concerns the ongoing funding of projects supported under round 2 of the invest to save budget. As is often the case with pioneering work, there have been delays in achieving key milestones for a minority of projects—11 from a total of 39—funded under round 2. We are rolling forward to future years any unclaimed grant from the £8 million already allocated to the 11 projects, which will enable them to complete their work. Details of the projects are provided in part two of annexe A.

The third purpose is to provide up to £47 million of funding over the next two years to develop and support 64 partnerships aimed at helping to deliver better services online. The individual allocations are set out in part three of annexe A. That funding is being made available as part of the Government's £350 million local government online programme, which aims to e-enable all local authorities by 2005. The partnerships will build on the work that councils are undertaking to make the most of new technology in providing better quality and more accessible services to people.

Working together, councils will be able to cut across administrative and organisational boundaries to join up services around the needs of the citizen, look beyond their own boundaries for skills and expertise outside their normal remit and pool them with their own, and secure economies of scale through reducing transaction and implementation costs. The overall funding provides greater support to those partnerships proposing to deliver strategic solutions to shared e-government services, while supporting others to develop their proposals in that direction.

The Government are providing 18 projects with the funding that was requested—up to a maximum of £2 million each over the next two years. The partnerships, which are described in the report as shared delivery partnerships, are those that made the greatest progress to develop fully shared and joined-up e-enabled services. We shall provide a further 30 partnerships, which have not reached the same stage in their development, with the funding that they request up to a maximum of £300,000 this year. The partnerships are described in the report as information-based partnerships. To support their development, we are providing most of those with additional pump-priming funds this year of £50,000 to produce business plans to develop more strategic solutions across their partner organisations. If the plans are satisfactory, they will receive a further £300,000 next year.

There are a further 16 partnerships whose proposals were not developed enough for significant funding at this stage. We are providing £90,000 this year to help them to produce business plans so that they can develop more strategic solutions. Those are described in the report as developing partnerships. All partnerships that receive less than £2 million in the next two years will be able to apply, subject to competition, for a share of the £26 million of local government online funding available in 2003–04.

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The fourth purpose is to enable up to £70,000 of grant under the local government online programme to be paid to each of the 25 e-government pathfinders in 2002–03 and 2003–04 to support the further dissemination of best practice, shared learning and the practical products that they have developed. Those products will be made available to all local authorities, which will bring down the cost of implementing local e-government.

The local e-government pathfinders have had great success in developing new products. For example, in partnership with the districts, the police, the health authority and the Army, in Surrey, a central electronic hub has been developed for collecting and disseminating emergency and major incident information. In partnership with the district and island councils in Cornwall, a multi-function smart card for 50,000 residents and visitors has been developed. It will initially be used for tourism, car parking, fare concessions, proof of age and so on.

That £70,000 of funding builds on the £50,000 already allocated for dissemination work, and it will ensure that the lessons learned are promulgated widely. Other examples of us encouraging local authorities to share their knowledge more effectively include mentoring arrangements, attempts to reach wider audiences through methods such as a website set up for the purpose, and the detailed online product catalogue that my Department has helped to establish.

The report will enable the Government to implement a key part of our overall strategy to e-enable local authorities under the local government online programme, and to support innovative projects under the invest to save budget. I therefore commend it to the Committee.

4.41 pm

 
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