Bearing in mind the association's concern about the capital control system and the Audit Commission's condemnation of it, will my right hon. Friend comment on the strength of that feeling and assure us that he will give careful consideration to a recommendation that he either has received or is about to receive from the joint working party of the Department of the Environment and ACC officials?
The report that Ministers have received certainly confirms the need for a change in the system. It also identifies a number of options, which we have been discussing with the local authority associations. We seek two objectives. The first is to get better control of the totals of capital spending by local authorities, and the second, which is no less important, is to give local authorities greater certainty so that they can plan their expenditure more efficiently.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the present system of capital spending controls is causing absolute chaos for local authorities at all levels, because they do not have the opportunity to plan ahead? Is he aware that capital spending must be planned on as long a term as possible, yet some authorities are working on plans covering less than six months? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that he should consider introducing a proper system of capital spending controls? One cannot criticise controls of some sort, but they must be on a longer-term basis.
I do not agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I hope that he took some comfort from my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson) on 26 June, when I said that we did not propose to take any action at present where we noticed that there was the prospect of an overspend on local authority capital spending this year. I know that the statement was widely welcomed by local authorities.