HC Deb 15 February 1995 vol 254 cc997-8
19. Mr. Mackinlay

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what measures he proposes to allow local authorities to extend and improve their services.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

Since 1979 we have taken, and are continuing to take, a range of measures and quality initiatives for improving the value for money in local authority services, including establishing the Audit Commission, compulsory competitive tendering and introducing the citizens charter and performance indicators.

Mr. Mackinlay

Does the Minister understand that Essex county council's ability to improve and extend services is substantially hindered by the unfair rate support grant settlement? Will he consider the accuracy of his earlier reply, when he told the House that there had been no representations from Essex about rate support grant? There have been representations, and on 1 February a letter was sent to the Secretary of State complaining about the alteration without consultation of the demographic data relating to education services. Has not my county been disadvantaged by the inefficiency and bureaucracy of the Department? When will the leader of the council receive a reply to his letter of 1 February addressed to the Secretary of State?

Mr. Jones

If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would have heard me say that there had been no representations in the period up to the laying of the order before the House. Of course, representations after the order has been laid are too late—the point that has been made to Essex county council.

Mr. Thomason

Does my hon. Friend agree that compulsory competitive tendering has contributed considerably to the improvement of local government services? Will he consider possible ways of extending that system? The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) seems to want to terminate it, much to the horror of many Labour council leaders.

Mr. Jones

My hon. Friend is right. Compulsory competitive tendering has resulted in substantial savings for council tax payers and a substantial improvement in quality in many cases. It is fascinating for Ministers talking to Labour-controlled councils about CCT for housing management—they find that those councils are, for the first time, discussing with their tenants what should be provided and at what quality.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Does the Minister not understand that, in places like Shropshire and Oxfordshire, parents, governors and even Tory county councillors are up in arms about the Government and are clearly saying that they want better services and are prepared to pay for them? They do not want a Government who tell them to pay more and get less.

Mr. Jones

As the hon. Gentleman raises the issue of Shropshire, it may be relevant to remind the House that Shropshire local authority employs 32.7 staff per 1,000 of the population, whereas Gloucestershire employs 21 staff per thousand of the population—the local authorities are not that dissimilar. Shropshire and other councils should consider their manpower levels and start saving.