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Lord Filkin: My Lords, I share the view expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. It is good to see the LGA being so clearly supportive of the importance of community planning as a central role for local authorities.
Having said that, I have some doubt as to whether a further statutory duty is necessary in this context, as probably three-quarters of it already exists in the legislation on best value whereby local authorities are required as part of their best value processes to produce a community strategy for their areas.
I am not convinced that the argument given by the LGA really bites; namely, that there is need of a duty to encourage partner organisations to treat the statutory process seriously. That will not be a duty which falls on the other bodies. Were this to be passed, it would only be a duty on the local authority which has to persuade others of the importance of working on a strategy by its stance, leadership and the wisdom it brings to those processes. I am sympathetic in part to the amendment. However, I doubt whether it is strictly necessary.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I do not believe there is a difference in objective; it is more a case of whether it should be a duty or a power. There is perhaps not so great a difference between ourselves and noble Lords opposite, or, indeed, the LGA on the issue as the amendment suggests. We disagree about the means of delivery. Like my noble friend Lord Filkin, I am not convinced that a duty is necessary or especially conducive to effective community planning.
Local strategic partnerships can bring real benefits. A number of local authorities are already part of local strategic partnerships bringing together the other stakeholders in the area. They are already developing the sort of approach which the Government want to encourage. Those authorities, for example Coventry City Council, who have adopted this approach for some time, have demonstrated the benefits it can bring. They did not need to have a duty in that respect.
The evidence suggests, therefore, that it is not a necessary prerequisite for local authorities to develop effective community planning. Moreover, there are other aspects of changes in the pipeline which will encourage local authorities to go down that road.
Under the new executive arrangements in Part II of the Bill, accountability for lack of progress on delivery will be clear. The well-being of their communities should be the most important issue for local councils. Where there is no delivery, it will be clear where the responsibility lies.
In the longer term there is a potential to use the powers in Clauses 5 and 6 of the Bill to remove barriers to the use of the well-being power and to rationalise the requirements for statutory plans. An authority that already has an effective community strategy in place will be best placed to identify such problems and to take advantage of the potential freedoms that their removal would provide.
On balance, therefore, we are not convinced that a duty laid on local authorities is necessary for what we want to see in terms of turning community planning into reality. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness will not feel it necessary to press this point.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, it is strange that a duty will continue to apply to the 40 other plans but there will be no duty to provide something that is overarching. While I accept that the best local authorities do not need to be given a duty, much of the Government's incentive for bringing this Bill and the last Bill forward, and for setting up the Improvement and Development Agency, was to raise the standard of all councils, not to continue to enable the best to perform well. That is why the Bill would have been much stronger if it included a duty.
I feel also that the Minister's response continues to ignore the fact that the best value duty will mainly still apply to local authorities. Of course what they do in partnership will be taken into account, but our amendment would bring in, in a comprehensive way, their work with all the other partners and other local authorities in the area. It would be much more wide-ranging than that which the best value guidance, which is internal to a local authority, will bring forward. I hope that the Government will address the fact that they are imposing a duty to produce lesser plans but no duty to produce a comprehensible, overarching plan. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 12 seeks to bring the words "sustainable development" into the way in which local authorities prepare community plans. I hope the House will bear with me while I repeat a little history. I do this in view of the Minister's response to our debate on this point in Committee.
In Committee the Minister did not believe that "sustainable development" was widely understood. He regretted that fact and agreed with me that we would like it to be more widely understood. I take the House back briefly to the Government's 1998
The Government came to power in 1997 with laudable aims developed through these consultation documents and echoed by the Minister in the debate of 10th May. But those aims have been greatly watered down. The Government seem to be afraid to include the words "sustainable development", as suggested by the amendment. The Local Agenda 21 steering group of the LGA felt that they should be included in Clause 4 and I believe it wrote to Michael Meacher on 4th February in that regard. I hope the Minister has a copy of that letter. It said that,
The Government appear primarily to be afraid of the fact that "sustainable development" is difficult to understand. But how many local authorities currently have Local Agenda 21 plans in place? How many have substantially acted on those plans? If that is the main duty that now remains for achieving sustainable development it is proving a slow process and not a very strong one.
Amendment No. 12 would make it clear to local authorities that the powers that they have to implement well-being must add up to sustainable development. The conflicts that might arise, such as how one achieves affordable housing, reasonable land use and employment and still keep biodiversity--the Government also face a conflict in relation to land use, new build and affordable housing for people--are exactly what local authorities should be facing in order
I am disappointed that the Government now seem to be watering down their commitment from what was a laudable aim when they first came to power. I beg to move.
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