Examination of Witnesses (Questions 680
WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY 2002
MP AND SIR
680. What are you looking for? What would constitute
success and what would constitute failure?
(Mr Byers) I think we need to look at it in terms
of the traditional way of doing things, because that is a comparator,
to see if it is being successful. I think we judge success by
whether or not service delivery is being improved, whether local
people feel that there is more openness, that there is a greater
buy-in to what the local authority is doing.
681. How can you have more openness when you
are concentrating power within small groups who are scrutinised
by all the other councils who have no independent advice?
(Mr Byers) That is why we need to compare it with
the more traditional approach, and see what benefits
682. I know where the difference lies, Secretary
of Stateeven I know thatbut you were asked how are
you going to monitor it and how are you going to define success.
(Mr Byers) I think if I say one of the ways in which
you can define success is by openness, and it turns out it is
not as open, then it will not be successful.
683. Ah. You may find you can produce results
(Mr Byers) Most Members of this Committee know my
views on this particular issue.
684. Would you be looking at increased participation
in local electionshigh turnout rates?
(Mr Byers) If it can be achieved.
685. Sir Richard, nodding is quite useful.
(Sir Richard Mottram) No, no, Chairman, I was just
thinking about something else. I would record that I was nodding
at that point.
(Mr Byers) I may be wrong, but I am not convinced
that people turn out to vote because there is a cabinet system
or there is not a cabinet system. What motivates them is actually
the quality of service and knowing what the local council is doing.
There are a variety of ways in which you can do that. Some of
the best local councils, under the old system, would have high
turnouts because they would be open, they would be clear with
people on what they were trying to do, there would be political
conflict and people would turn out and vote. That used to happen
under the old system, but not everywhereprobably in far
too few areas. So I think it is worth trying a new approach to
see what benefits that can bring.
686. Would you regard more civic engagementfor
example through people voting in local electionsthe measure
(Mr Byers) I think that is the sensible measure to
look at, yes.
687. How big a redistribution will follow from
the reform of the SSA?
(Mr Byers) We will need to see. What I have said is
that the Standard Spending Assessment will go because it bears
no relationship to need within a particular local authority area
or to a level of service which is actually being provided. What
I would like to see is a reformed system of distribution which
responds far more closely to the demands being made on local authorities
within their own area and, also, the level of service which they
688. Could you anticipate a redistribution,
say, from the south-east to North Shields, as an example?
(Mr Byers) I would not comment on that because I have
got a constituency interest, but what I can say is within London
there will be a redistribution because there are some parts of
London where demand has increased dramatically and where there
is a great need compared to other parts of London.
689. That is ducking out of the issue, is it
not? You know that in South Shields
(Mr Byers) South Shields is better. It is south of
the river, so I can probably comment on that.
690. You know that in North Shields and places
like Tameside and Stockport we are doing pretty badly compared
to parts of London. Can you really justify that?
(Mr Byers) It is an unfair system and it is the system
which we all know was introduced for the most cynical, party political
reasons. The SSA is motivated by party politics.
691. Surely not.
(Mr Byers) To save Westminster and Wandsworth. If
you talk to the former Secretary of State for the Environment,
now Lord Baker, I think he concedes the fact and is now quite
open about it. This is not a London-against-the-rest-of-the-country
thing, because there will be parts of London that will benefit
from a system which is more closely based on need and the level
of service which is required.
692. Of course they will, because we have got
more wards and a higher deprivation factor than any other region,
(Mr Byers) That is why it is wrong to say it is London
against the rest of the country. The issue is that there will
be parts of London that will benefit by a fairer system, there
will be other parts of the country that will benefit as well;
there will be some parts of London that will lose and there will
be other parts of the country that will lose as well, but that
is the nature of any big change. This will be a big change in
the way in which we allocate funding.
693. I think we would all accept it will be
a contentious change. What are the arrangements for consultation,
and when the consultation produces recommendations will there
be any transitional arrangements to cushion the effects on some
of the losers?
(Mr Byers) I think there will need to be transitional
arrangements with the sort of big change that we are looking at.
I have said, when I gave the Local Government Settlement, that
I would like to find the mechanism to involve, clearly, Members
of the House and local government itself about the changes that
we want to introduce, because they will be contentious. A problem
shared is a problem halved.
694. Consultation timetable?
(Mr Byers) We are doing the work now in the department
and I would like to think that, perhaps, after the local elections
in May we have something that we can go out with.
695. The idea of "a problem shared"
is that you take the credit and we get the blame.
(Mr Byers) Absolutely.
696. Will you be considering rural areas with
the new policy? A huge number of my constituents have to spend
a lot of the SSA currently on transport and the education budget.
Will that be part of your consideration?
(Mr Byers) We will, and I think one of the important
issues that we will need to look at is, really, particularly for
small district councils, where this is a real, pressing issue,
that there is a cost by just having a local council. This affects
small districts in particular, and it may be that we say that
for every council there will be a sum of money that you get automatically,
as the cost of running the council. Small, rural district councils,
in particular, will benefit from that particular approach. That
is one of the ideas that we are looking at at the moment.
697. Electoral matters. Who will decide the
fairness of the wording of any referendum question on the Euro?
I think we have had some fairly different answers in the past.
(Mr Byers) I always get in trouble when I talk about
the Euro, so Sir Richard will answer.
(Sir Richard Mottram) The Electoral Commission will
698. So they will wholly decide the wording?
I believe we were told that they would only have some consideration
in it. What is the real answer, please?
(Sir Richard Mottram) My understanding is that they
will determine it, yes.
699. They will write the whole thing without
(Mr Byers) They are given guidance, I think, in the
legislation. There is some provision which gives them
(Sir Richard Mottram) I have not got this in my notes
but I can give you more detail. It is not determined by the Government.