HC Deb 26 October 1983 vol 47 cc266-8
2. Mr. Madden

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the main benefits to ratepayers from his proposals for further reorganisation of local government.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Patrick Jenkin)

Abolishing the GLC and the metropolitan county councils will, by removing a tier of local government, produce savings from which ratepayers in these areas will benefit.

Mr. Madden

How did the Government make these proposals without havig a cost-benefit analysis made? Is it not true that if these ludicrous proposals go through ratepayers will be left with a hefty bill, diminishing services and loss of democratic control over those services? When the Secretary of State is in Bradford a week on Friday, will he take the opportunity to announce that he is scrapping these proposals and switching the £160 million or so that they will cost to places such as Bradford in order to avoid cuts in education and the National Health Service and to avoid the closure of hospitals such as Thornton View hospital in that city?

Mr. Jenkin

I have not heard so much rubbish for a long time. By removing an entire tier of local government, which experience has shown to be unnecessary, it seems to me inevitable that substantial savings will be made. The hon. Gentleman knows that the White Paper contains proposals whereby the staffing and precepts of joint boards will be watched very carefully for a transitional period of three years to make sure that there is no repeat of the empire building that went on before.

Mr. Shersby

What safeguards does my right hon. Friend propose over the precepting powers of the new joint boards?

Mr. Jenkin

They will be subject to the system of selective rate control, for which legislation will be introduced in this Session. As I have just said, for the first three transitional years Government approval of the precepts will be required.

Mr. Simon Hughes

How can the Secretary of State justify the proposed abolition of the GLC with the consequence that London, unlike any other major capital city in this continent, and larger than at least 18 sovereign states in the world, will be left with no strategic authority for all strategic issues? What will the financial benefits be, because there is none set out in the White Paper?

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman may not recollect that when the Herbert commission recommended a structure for local government in London over 20 years ago the word "strategic" did not appear in its report. During the 1960s and 1970s some of us sought to see whether it was possible to define a strategic issue. In fact, none cannot equally be performed by other more economical means. That is why we have come to the conclusion that the search by the GLC and the metropolitan counties for some type of strategic role has demonstrated that they have no such role.

Mr. Benyon

As it appears that there are considerable controversies about cost savings, if any, as a result of the proposals, will my right hon. Friend appoint a prominent firm of chartered accountants to assess the conflicting claims?

Mr. Jenkin

Savings will depend upon the precise way in which the services are devolved to the boroughs and districts and on the decisions by the boroughs and districts and the joint boards on how they will carry out the functions. It is not possible at this stage to do other than make assumptions which may or may not be justified. I am confident that there is substantial scope for savings and we intend to ensure that they are brought about.

Mr. O'Brien

Is the Minister aware of the statement by his predecessor in May, just before the general election, that there would be a saving of 9,000 jobs and £150 million through the abolition of the Greater London council and the metropolitan councils? Is the Minister saying that that is no longer a fact?

Mr. Jenkin

I have repeated the figures on a number of occasions since the election. They represent a broad estimate and could be substantially higher. More than half the total local government overspend this year is attributable to the upper tier councils, including the GLC and ILEA. The total amount of overspend involved there is about £415 million. The hon. Gentleman can see from that that there is plenty of scope for saving.

Mr. Heddle

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the joint boards will be manned entirely by democratically elected councillors and that they will not become Government-appointed quangos?

Mr. Jenkin

It is now clear that all that we have read in the local government and other presses about how we plan to go for a whole bunch of quangos is nonsense. The only exception to the joint boards consisting of local councillors nominated by elected councils is the provision for the continued presence of magistrates on police boards.

Mr. Kaufman

The Secretary of State has said that he wants to cut out an unnecessary tier of government and empire building and that these proposals will produce savings. Will he quantify precisely the savings from the abolition of seven elected local authorities and their replacement by one London planning commission; five new police joint boards; seven new fire joint boards; one London transport authority; six new transport joint boards; one staff commission; seven bodies to hold and dispose of property; a statutory body for the management of debt, residual superannuation matters and residual legal liabilities in London; consortia for central purchasing in London; seven administering bodies for external debt; seven administering bodies for staff superannuation; seven administering bodies for legal rights and liabilities; seven statutory joint arrangements for waste disposal and a 48-member ILEA being replaced by a 50-member ILEA?

Mr. Jenkin

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who has obviously devoted attention to the White Paper. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman has left out of account the disappearance of an entire tier of elected councillors and all the overhead administration that goes with that. It is nonsense to imagine that because some of the services will be run by the districts and boroughs jointly—although most will be devolved upon the districts and boroughs, which are anxious to receive the powers, as the right hon. Gentleman will know from his Manchester experience—this cannot be achieved without substantial economies. We shall monitor the overheads necessary to staff the joint boards and ensure that the savings are achieved. I assure the right hon. Gentleman of that.