HC Deb 04 March 1997 vol 291 c697
4. Mr. Thurnham

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received about replacing local authorities' services with cash allowances. [17004]

The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration (Mr. David Curry)

None that I am aware of. However, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has received a number of representations in connection with the community care direct payments scheme.

Mr. Thurnham

The Government say that they are in favour of more choice and opportunity. Why do they deny community care direct payments to 700,000 pensioners? Surely it is nonsense to say that town halls cannot cope with it as an optional scheme.

Mr. Curry

The hon. Gentleman will know that we are often pressed to introduce programmes on a trial basis and to extend them once we have ascertained that the trial works effectively. The scheme applies to people under 65. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will follow it closely. The option of extending it remains open if it demonstrates its value.

Mr. John Marshall

Will my hon. Friend confirm that many local authorities are unable to carry out the tasks that they are meant to perform, such as collecting rents, renting out houses to new tenants and collecting council tax? Will he therefore be wary of giving additional burdens to councils that are so incompetent at carrying out their existing duties?

Mr. Curry

My hon. Friend is right. The scheme involves giving money to people so that they can acquire services or equipment, short-circuiting the normal bureaucracies. It is a cost-effective way of giving choice, flexibility and speed of response. As for the fulfilment of basic managerial functions, it is worth remembering that a 1 per cent. improvement in council tax collection rates across the country would be equivalent to £80 million to spend on local services.