HC Deb 20 November 2001 vol 375 cc164-5
6. Jim Knight (South Dorset)

What steps his Department is taking to encourage partnerships in local communities. [13557]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Dr. Alan Whitehead)

The Government expect county, district and parish councils to work in partnership with one another, with local communities and other public, private and voluntary sector organisations, to provide the best quality services for local people. We are taking a number of steps to foster that work, including the promotion of local strategic partnerships to bring those groups together.

Under the duty of best value, we also expect local councils to explore new ways to deliver public services. That is why we have just launched a new taskforce on strategic service delivery further to encourage partnership working with the private sector.

I understand that there is effective joint working between the public, private, community and voluntary sectors in Dorset. My hon. Friend has been active in promoting those partnerships, and I commend him for that.

Jim Knight

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that, in my constituency, Dorset county council is keen to pilot new strategic partnering arrangements with the private sector, as an alternative to using the private finance initiative to deliver important transport infrastructure improvements—in particular, the Weymouth relief road? Will he comment on how such strategic partnering arrangements might work and give me an update on them?

Dr. Whitehead

My hon. Friend will be aware that the Weymouth relief road scheme has been provisionally accepted, subject to the successful completion of the planning and statutory processes, and that the Government have asked Dorset county council to explore the opportunities for a private finance initiative, possibly to provide an increase in the scheme's value for money. However, if Dorset wishes to engage in a longer-term statutory service delivery partnership, which might include schemes such as the Weymouth relief road, we have, as I have said, recently established a strategic partnering taskforce. That taskforce will, in particular, provide expert advice and support to authorities wishing to enter into such long-term partnerships. Earlier this month, we invited authorities to apply for partnership pathfinder status, and my hon. Friend might care to discuss whether Dorset wants to take that route when he next talks to representatives of the county council.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

Before we have a partnership in local communities, could we have a partnership between Departments? Is the Minister aware of a daft anomaly whereby, when a care home upgrades its facilities in line with Government guidelines for higher standards, the local authority valuation office assesses each resident for full council tax? That has happened in the home run by the Royal National Institute for the Blind at Burnham-on-Sea in my constituency. It is a clear example of his Department not talking to other Departments and the Treasury, and it is causing great distress for elderly and blind residents. Will he sort it out?

Dr. Whitehead

The right hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot reply to an individual case at the moment, but if he cares to write to me, I will look into it. He should be aware, however, that the Government's forthcoming White Paper on local government will, among other things, emphasise how important partnership between central Government and local government is to ensuring that local government works well.