HC Deb 07 November 1979 vol 973 cc394-5
12. Mr. Stoddart

asked the Minister of Transport what representations he has received concerning the unilateral decision of the Wiltshire county council to end the highways agency arrangement with the Thamesdown borough council.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Apart from those by the hon. Member, only one letter, forwarded to Ministers by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Needham).

Mr. Stoddart

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that members of Thamesdown borough council, both Labour and Tory, are incensed over the cavalier treatment that they have received at the hands of Wiltshire county council? The removal of the agency arrangement will not assist the administration of roads in Thamesdown. Does he not agree that removal of the arrangement is a blatant attempt by the county council to circumvent the hon. Gentleman's own code of practice which he expects to be instituted?

Mr. Clarke

I cannot get involved in the details of a dispute between one county council and a district council. We are not happy with the present agency arrangements and the disputes that occur. As the hon. Gentleman says, we have set up a working party involving the local authority associations to produce a code of practice in order to avoid these disputes and to make the agency arrangements work more smoothly. I hope that this will soon come to a satisfactory conclusion and that this kind of dispute will be avoided.

Mr. Charles Morrison

When thought is being given to whether an agency arrangement should be entered into, or continued, does my hon. Friend not agree that the overriding consideration should be value for the ratepayer's money?

Mr. Clarke

That should be almost the one and only consideration in these matters. But there is a wide range of practice all over the country. A number of disputes have arisen between major counties and some of their districts. We hope to set up a method of resolving disputes that will not give rise to so much trouble and that will enable councils to concentrate on giving value for money.