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The point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is pertinent. I was happy to put on the record the situation about insolvency, as it is important information,
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I must address the amendment before us. Obviously we do not think that the specific amendment in this context would be appropriate. We do not agree that matters that should be addressed in local economic assessments should be placed on the face of the Bill because it is up to local areas to determine what is relevant in terms of their economic assessment and how it is best deployed. It would also unnecessarily constrain local authorities and make it more difficult to respond to changing economic priorities. Local authorities should be free to determine what to include in their assessments, taking account of local priorities.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the Ministers reply. I do think that we are heading for disaster, but it is helpful that the Minister has told the House that rate demands will be issued probably in the next two weeks. Matters will then come to a head, and the clarity for businesses will be helpful because they have been in limbo for some time. We will see what happens next. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, Amendment 156 is an amendment to Clause 65, which concerns local authority economic assessments. My amendment would provide that the new clause shall in no way affect a local authoritys powers or duties in relation to the social or environmental well-being of its area.
The Government will say that the amendment is unnecessary. The Minister grins at that: perhaps it is his first line. However, the amended clause would
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The Government relied in Grand Committee on guidance that we have yet to see and referred to the policy statement that we have seen. I acknowledge that the policy statement covers wider ground than the narrowly economic. It mentions, for instancejust to show that I have looked at itthe transition to a low-carbon economy and the causes of worklessness. However, that is in a policy statement; it will not be in statute.
If this or any future Government become even more panicky about the economy, there will be no statutory backing for the balance. We on these Benches believe that it is necessary to consider all three aspects at the same time: they all support one another. The social and environmental well-being of an area in itself supports the economy of that area. I beg to move.
Lord Patel of Bradford: My Lords, unfortunately it is my third sentence that says that the amendment is unnecessary. I will try to reassure the noble Baroness, who has raised some important points. She mentioned the policy statement and her concerns about ensuring that social and environmental well-being is not left off the agenda. The fact that I am reassuring her in the House will, I hope, add strength to the argument that this amendment is unnecessary.
Amendment 156 would insert the provision that the duty to prepare an assessment of the economic conditions of an area shall not affect the powers and duties of a principal local authority in relation to the social or environmental well-being of the area. I assure noble Lords that nothing in Clause 65 would have an effect on any local authoritys powers or duties relating to social and environmental well-being. I understand that noble Lords are concerned that the new duty would give too great a prominence to economic issues at the expense of social and environmental matters. However, this is not the case.
As the noble Baroness said, we set out in our policy statement that we believe that local economic assessments will contribute to the overall aim of delivering sustainable economic development. A primary function of the economic assessment is to inform the preparation of the sustainable community strategy, which sets out the long-term vision for the economic, social and environmental well-being of an area. The local economic assessment, however, will form only part of the evidence base for the sustainable community strategy. In preparing the strategy, local authorities will need to weigh the
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We do not expect economic assessments to be prepared without any reference to wider social and environmental concerns. Some of the main barriers to economic success are social issues such as lack of skills and poor health. Economic conditions in turn may have social consequences. We know that worklessness is often linked to worsening social outcomes such as increased crime. At the same time, it is obvious that economic development has potential environmental consequences, and all areas need to think about how well placed they are for moving towards a low-carbon economy. The noble Baroness was right: we will address all this in government guidance.
In determining the long-term vision for the places that they serve, local authorities will need to bring together all the relevant issues in the sustainable community strategy. The economic assessment duty means that local authorities will have a good understanding of local economic circumstances, based on sound evidence. However, it is not the case that this evidence somehow trumps other considerations: it will be for local authorities to bring together all the evidence on economic, environmental and social issues, and balance the different considerations. The economic assessment duty will ensure that local authorities have a good understanding of the economy of the local area. There is no provision for these assessments to change existing local authority powers or duties on social or environmental matters. I hope that these reassurances will enable the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I thought that the first part of the Ministers speech was very much better than mine at making the same points. However, I did not agree with his conclusion. We have sustainable community strategy duties, so why is it necessary to have the new economic assessment duty? The imbalance worries me. As the Minister said, the three aspects are interwoven. I should like to see something about this in the Bill. I should like to test the opinion of the House.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, the purpose of this group of amendments is to make sure, as the Government have said, that the whole thing is more bottom-up than top-down. Amendment 157A would make sure that the Secretary of State is not the ultimate power in all this and does not have the ultimate say. Amendment 157E goes back to the point that I made in Committee, which was that the economic assessments should form the main part of the evidence base for the regional authority in drawing up the regional strategy. For all the glowing comments that we had earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Patel, about the way in which district councils and counties were going to have a great say in the economic assessments, we want to make certain that the assessments are the base of any regional strategy.
I hope that the Minister will agree that these amendments would strengthen the role of the local authorities in the process, which is something that we will return to with future amendments. This seems an entirely logical step. The Minister agreed with some of our earlier comments and I hope that she can agree with these as well, because they involve local authorities in the whole process. In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Patel, talked about,
These amendments present that opportunity and would provide a clear picture across the region. As I have said before, there can be a real problem of differences across large regions. In my county of Essex, for example, there are enormous differences between Clacton on the coast and parts that border London. I beg to move.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I should remind the House that I am honorary president of the Friends of the Lake District, which represents CPRE in the whole of Cumbria, and honorary vice-president of the Campaign for National Parks. I am going to speak to Amendment 160.
As I was saying, it is understandable why the noble Lord has brought back these amendments on the preparation of regional strategies and the relationship of local authority economic assessments to regional strategies. I know that he is concerned that we should demonstrate how much this is an organic and bottom-up process.
On Amendment 157A, we debated the notion of the regional strategy being established by the responsible regional authorities in Committee. There will be a touch of déjÃ vu, because I raised concerns then which I still hold. The problem with the word establish is that, rather than helping the cause of the noble Lord, it adds to the confusion. I will address the issue of who publishes the regional strategy in my response to the next group of amendments, but this amendment simply confuses the nature of what is involved in the process. We have made it clear in Clauses 69 and 70 that the responsible regional authorities would prepare the
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The noble Lord is right that local economic assessments have to be the fundamental bodies of evidence for the regional strategy. Amendment 157E would make it explicit that new integrated regional strategies must take account of local economic assessments. I am sorry to disappoint him but I do not think that it is appropriate to go into that degree of prescription in the Bill. As we said in the policy document that we published alongside the Bill, we expect the local economic assessments to form a key part of the evidence base, which is why we have debated them at such length and put so much emphasis on the quality and consistency of that evidence base. They will inform the preparation of regional strategies.
We also said in our policy statement that local economic assessments will form part of the evidence base for the examination in public of the draft regional strategy. That is where they will be challenged and scrutinised by people from many different disciplines and experiences, which is an important iterative part of the process. We have said that we will set out more details about how the assessments should feed into the regional strategy in future guidance, when we will have an opportunity to explore and emphasise their significance and to go into some of the issues that local authorities would find helpful. I hope that that provides sufficient assurance for the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her answer. We are going to discuss this again in the next group of amendments and I am sure that we will be pursuing this theme for a while. We all want to achieve something and make certain that we can build houses in and benefit the economy of our areas. I think that the Government often come from an urban perspective, considering groups of authorities that can easily relate together, such as in London, Manchester, Birmingham or Liverpool. However, most of the country is still divided into counties. Some of them are now unitaries; a lot of them still have districts with small or fairly large towns but not many cities. Getting coherent strategies on building houses and development is very different in those areas from the situation in London or Manchester. I will withdraw the amendment now but we will come back to this issue in the next group.
(a) a county council,
(b) a district council, other than a non-unitary district council,
(c) a National Park Authority,
(d) the Broads Authority.
(1C) The authority must give advice to the responsible regional authorities, including advice relating to the inclusion in the regional strategy of specific policies relating to any part of the region.
(1D) Where an authority under this section is a county council for an area for which there is a district council, the county council must consult the district council in relation to the discharge by the county council of its duties under this section.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, this group covers a wide range of amendments. My Amendment 157B is a Local Government Association amendment as well. Some of these issues were discussed in relation to the 2004 planning Act, when the Government accepted the will of this House. As I said, it is vital that the planning process for regional strategies should be bottom-up. Otherwise, one is going to get resistance rather than acceptance for building houses. You have the district doing local development frameworks and the counties above that with the highway powers, waste and mineral powers and all the social powers. That is a coherent policy, which is tied to the economic, environmental and social strategies that we talked about in relation to the amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrats. It is important that all this should tie together and then go up to create the regional strategy.
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