HL Deb 11 February 2003 vol 644 cc114-6WA
Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government

What progress has been made in the proposed change of status of the royal parks from an agency to a non-departmental public body. [HL1619]

Baroness Blackstone

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport announced on 20 July 2001 her intention to establish the Royal Parks Agency as a non-departmental public body (NDPB). The review of the Royal Parks Agency which recommended the change of status for the parks did not take into account the issue for reclaiming VAT in its assessment. Following the announcement of the change of status, there were discussions with HM Customs and Excise and it has been confirmed that the royal parks would lose their entitlement to reclaim VAT on building and maintenance work if they became a NDPB. This would result in a loss of approximately £3 million a year income, which the parks are unable to absorb. The decision has therefore been made that the parks should remain an agency of the department.

Our aim is still to modernise the agency and a programme of change to improve the efficiency and management of the parks is being taken forward. This includes:

a new and strengthened ministerial advisory board. The board will provide the agency with strategic direction and advice to Ministers on the agency's broad direction and performance against targets;

appointment of two non-executive directors to the Royal Parks Management Board, one of whom will be drawn from the advisory board;

supporting the setting up of the Royal Parks Foundation, a charitable trust to raise funds for the parks;

secondment of a member of the Senior Civil Service from the department to the royal parks to strengthen the parks' corporate and business management;

a new funding agreement which ties the royal parks more closely to delivering the department's core agenda;

application to the royal parks of all the recommendations in the report Better Government Services: Executive Agencies in the 21st Century.