HC Deb 18 March 1997 vol 292 cc526-7W
Mr. Channon

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to publish the Government's response to the recent efficiency scrutiny on information flows between central and local government; and if he will make a statement. [21128]

Mr. Curry

I have today published the Government's response to the report of the efficiency scrutiny on information flows between central and local government.

This scrutiny, which was published on 14 November 1996, forms part of the Government's war on waste campaign and was the first in a rolling programme of efficiency scrutinies on local government matters designed to cut the burden of paperwork and unnecessary bureaucracy between central and local government. The scrutiny focused in particular on certain key services— personal social services, education, housing and transport—and looked at the European regional development fund, the European social fund and monitoring of local government spending. The scrutiny report concluded that the paper flow could be cut by up to one third, and set out specific recommendations for streamlining information flows.

We have now consulted the local authority associations and other interested bodies, including the Audit Commission and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy—CIPFA—on the report and its recommendations. Responses we have received have been overwhelmingly supportive of the thrust of the report. In the light of this consultation, the Government have prepared their response to the scrutiny's recommendations, which takes the form of an action plan for implementation of the report's recommendations.

In recognition of the need for central and local government to work closely together, the implementation of the action plan will be overseen by the joint group of senior officials and representatives of the local authority associations, the Audit Commission and CIPFA which I established with local government when the report was published last November. The Government will also establish, with local government, a task force with a remit to make rapid progress in developing and facilitating electronic data transfer between local authorities and Government Departments. The task force has been asked to report by the summer.

The action plan sets out a substantial programme of work, involving a number of Government Departments, to rationalise the data that the Government require of local authorities and the arrangements for its collection. This work reflects the Government's on-going commitment to removing unnecessary burdens on local authorities in their dealings with central Government and should deliver considerable benefits for both central and local government in terms of efficiency gains and better quality information.

I am arranging for copies of the Government response to be placed in the Library of the House. Copies are being sent to the local authority associations and to individual local authorities in England.