HC Deb 04 November 1993 vol 231 cc328-9W
Mrs. Lait

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what are the Government's proposals for a de minimis threshold for compulsory competitive tendering of legal services.

Mr. Baldry

Competition provides many benefits to local authorities, including better managed services, higher quality work and significant financial savings. However, the Government recognise that it also brings with it additional administrative requirements which need to be taken into account.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Planning told the House on 15 June 1993, in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown), Official Report, column 543, that the Government intended to apply the principle of a de minimis threshold to corporate and construction-related services as part of their decision to implement CCT for these services. He made it clear that, for the white collar services, an authority also needs to retain a satisfactory number of good quality staff to carry out work which is not suitable for compulsory competitive tendering. He indicated that we would discuss with local authority representatives the most appropriate threshold for each of the white collar services.

Following discussions on the threshold for legal services, the Government have concluded that local authorities should be permitted to carry out up to £300,000 of legal work a year using their own staff without being required to award that work through competition. This is broadly equivalent to the cost of employing six qualified legal staff, and will ensure that all authorities continue to have the legal skills necessary to serve local people effectively.

Those authorities exempted from CCT will nevertheless be free to tender services voluntarily. Many will, no doubt, take the opportunity to improve services and reduce costs by giving private sector legal services the chance to tender for work.

The Government intend to consult on the proposed competitive regime for local authority legal services, including details of this proposed de minimis threshold. Consultation will begin in December, and the Government will make final decisions in spring next year.