HC Deb 15 June 1999 vol 333 cc143-4
6. Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West)

If he will make a statement on progress in the implementation of the beacon council scheme. [85784]

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Ms Hilary Armstrong)

We invited councils to apply for beacon status with the publication last month of the beacon council scheme application brochure. The deadline for applications is 31 July, and we anticipate announcing the first beacon councils in November.

Mr. Salter

I thank my right hon. Friend for her reply. Is she aware of the enthusiasm of many forward-looking councils for the beacon council scheme?

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North)

Not Reading!

Mr. Salter

Well done! Indeed, Reading council is applying for beacon council status in two service areas. Does my right hon. Friend the Minister agree that it is high time that forward-looking councils such as Reading, which are virtually Tory-free zones, had an opportunity to share their best practice with the rest of local government, and their electoral tactics with other parts of the Labour party?

Ms Armstrong

I am delighted to hear of the enthusiasm in Reading. In response to the consultation document, only two councils—Liberal Ribble Valley and Conservative Wandsworth—opposed the beacon council scheme. The remaining 144 respondents fully supported it. Today I am arranging for the full responses to be placed in the House of Commons Library.

Tory Wandsworth described the scheme as irrationally tied in to the Government's modernisation and Best Value initiatives". By contrast, the Confederation of British Industry described it as a mechanism by which councils can improve the services they provide and learn new ideas on how to tackle problems their communities face. We know that Conservatives are not interested in tackling problems in new and innovative ways, but I welcome any council that wants to do so. As my hon. Friend said, the scheme is primarily intended to spread good practice. I hope that all local councils will look at how they can learn from others and improve their service to their citizens.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

Does the Minister agree that, given Labour's appalling record in local government of waste, mismanagement, incompetence and downright corruption, the Government are in no position to lecture any local authority on standards of quality in local government? Does not she have to agree that the reason the electorate up and down the country so decisively rejected Labour in the local elections recently, as they did in the European elections this week, is absolutely clear? Labour is going down to rejection by the electorate at the next general election.

Ms Armstrong

I think that the hon. Gentleman has some way to go and a bit to learn yet. I see that he is up for sale; perhaps he can get a price that will mean that the Conservative party has a future. In the meantime, local government recognises its responsibility and, although the hon. Gentleman may not have noticed, Labour local government is considered by independent bodies such as the Audit Commission to be improving year on year. That is our target and that is what we will achieve. We will make sure that local councils are able to face the real challenges of the 21st century, and it is a pity that he is not with us on that.