Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1000-1009)



  1000. They are going to work in Hartlepool, are they, while they do the review?
  (Ruth Kelly)—Within a clear analytical framework but ultimately it is for each department to fit the relocation plans into their working strategies so there must be value-for-money benefits. Of course, there have been very successful examples in the past.

  1001. Other than relocation, within the spending review, decisions have taken into account regional aspects?
  (Ruth Kelly) Absolutely, and one of the issues that I have raised earlier today is the fact that we have been talking to RDAs themselves about what they would like within the regions, and they submitted a formal budget proposal looking at different areas. On enterprise, for example, they said that there ought to be a clearer enterprise focus on schools and tertiary education and the Chancellor responded in the budget by providing money for enterprise advisers working in schools. They also looked at red tape, about innovation, and why SMEs and so forth came directly from RDA—

  1002. But that affects all regions?
  (Ruth Kelly) And, of course, the single-pot funding was increased in the case of more local discretion, so I think it is a combination of working with national policy but also giving local players the power to respond to local circumstances.

  1003. There are a number of floor targets that the government has for performance of government services and public services and in modern regional policy to the United Kingdom a number of those are described as having explicit or implicit regional dimensions. Do you think there is an important regional dimension to floor targets?
  (Mr Leslie) Certainly I think in terms of making sure that we have a baseline, whether it is to do with prosperity as we seek in this particular target or whether it is to do with quality of life, nature of affordable housing and so forth, all those issues we have to look at in the sense that there is an expectation that people have, and in a policy sense we have to make sure we inform those decisions we take with the fact that people will have those expectations with what are the minimum standards they want to see.

  1004. The DPM assures us he had informal sanctions in ensuring these departments did meet those PSA targets. What are the roles of your two departments in enforcing those targets?
  (Mr Leslie) I think the government is not what it used to be; I have not been a minister for very long but I read that there used to be quite rigid departmental boundaries across Whitehall. Those have been broken down quite considerably and in a genuine sense, not just through the collective decision making round-up that we have in Cabinet Committees and so forth but also in the day-to-day exchanges that go on between civil servants, and in the whole new spending review public service agreement processes we have set out, we want to look at policy themes and not just stick to rigid—

  1005. So joined-up government is a long-term process?
  (Mr Leslie) We always have to work on it and make sure we do not suffer from departmentalitis too severely, and we have been cured of a lot of that in recent years.

Christine Russell

  1006. What account do you think your housing and planning policies in ODPM take of this PSA target to reduce disparities? How sensitive are they?
  (Mr Leslie) In terms of town and country planning there have been changes that obviously the Planning Bill is making towards the creation of regional spatial strategies so that there is a greater level of framework and creation at a regional level. Those are not going to be drivers of economic growth in and of themselves because they have plans, but what they do contribute is a foundation, a basis, on which stable secure decisions can be made about investment. For example, if a company wishes to invest in a particular region, then because we have that greater level of information and decision-making about which zones, which areas, are more susceptible to industrial development, for example, because we have those frameworks in place we believe that is a better foundation on which growth can occur.

  1007. What about the recently published sustainable communities document? Does that not inevitably mean that more public funding is going to be spent on propping up the already overheating economies down here in the south east and London?
  (Mr Leslie) I do not think so. Bear in mind that this PSA has two strands to it. Firstly, whilst we have been concentrating a lot on reducing the differential rates of growth between over and under performing regions, it also includes the target that we want every single region including the south east and London to improve and enhance their performance or prosperity, and that means we do have a responsibility to invest and support those areas where there are specifically acute problems for perhaps undersupply of housing for public sector key workers and so forth and I think we have a responsibility to deliver on that agenda. I do not think that that expenditure is solely about those parts of the country. In other parts of England where there have been perhaps market failures, where house prices have fallen because there is an over-supply of housing, by renewing those markets and pursuing a policy and spending money on bolstering those housing markets we can create an environment where greater investment can occur.


  1008. That sounds all right but we are talking about £606 million for a sustainable community for the South East and we are talking about tuppence for most of the market renewable areas.
  (Mr Leslie) No, It is not quite tuppence.

  1009. Thruppence then.
  (Mr Leslie) I think it is probably somewhere in the region of 852 million now, that is slightly more than a couple of pennies. I do recognise there are different rates of expenditure to reflect the different issues facing each individual region.

  Chairman: On that note we better complete the proceedings of the Committee. We have about five or six questions we have not asked you, I am sure we can send them to you and you can send us written answers. Can I thank you very much.

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