HC Deb 09 February 1995 vol 254 cc355-6W
Mr. Kaufman

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland why he has not yet provided the information about next steps agencies requested by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton in his question of 20 January.

Sir John Wheeler

Because of the number of next steps agencies involved, the information took some time to compile. It was, however, provided to the right hon. Member on 7 February.

Mr. Maginnis

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans are presently under consideration at the Department of the Environment for the creation of agencies to carry out its functions; and if he will list(a) the areas identified, (b) the expected work force within each agency, (c) the stage which each agency proposal has reached and (d) what consultation has taken place with elected Northern Ireland members.

Mr. Moss

[holding answer 7 February 1995]: There are already four next steps agencies in the Department of the Environment (Northern Ireland) covering rate collection, driver and vehicle testing, Ordnance Survey and driver and vehicle licensing.

On 19 July 1994, my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) announced that the Public Record Office would become a next steps agency from 1 April 1995 and that the Water Executive would become an agency from 1 April 1996—Official Report, 19 July 1994, column 193. The Public Record Office will have a work force of 94, including three part-time staff, but decisions have not been taken about the workforce for the Water Executive.

On 18 January 1994, my right hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) announced that the functions of the planning, roads and environment services and the Land Registry were potential candidates for next steps agencies and that the possible "prior options" of abolition, privatisation or contracting out would be considered in each case, Official Report column 521. On 21 July, my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield announced that a prior options study of Works Service would also be undertaken, Official Report, column 443. These studies are undertaken in pursuance of the Government's policy that, where the prior options of abolition, privatisation, market testing and contracting out do not apply, executive functions within Departments are best carried out in next steps agencies. A report on the DOE studies was completed in December and is currently under consideration. When conclusions have been reached, an announcement will be made regarding any further agencies to be created.

I should be glad to discuss with Northern Ireland Members of Parliament the action being taken to create next steps agencies and other initiatives directed at improving efficiency and value for money in the Department of the Environment. I will write to them shortly on this matter.

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