Service Standards

Oral Answers to Questions — Duchy of Lancaster – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th July 1992.

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Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley , City of York 12:00 am, 13th July 1992

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make it his policy to ensure that none of the service standards specified in the charters published to date are relaxed or withdrawn during the lifetime of this Parliament.

Photo of Robert Jackson Robert Jackson , Wantage

In the 19 follow-up charters published to date, we have, for the first time, clear standards which tell customers the level of service that they can expect. Those standards will be regularly reviewed so that we get a continuous improvement in the quality of public services within a tax bill that the nation can afford.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley , City of York

Does the process of continual review allow the Government to abandon or water down any commitments in the charters that they find difficult to meet? The Library's reference sheet on charters mentions the Department of Employment charter to establish minimum wages and protect them through regulation—a wages inspectorate charter. Will that remain unchanged throughout the lifetime of this Parliament?

Photo of Robert Jackson Robert Jackson , Wantage

The hon. Gentleman asks two questions, one about the review process for charters and their targets and standards, and the other about the policy of the Department of Employment, and that is obviously a matter for it. On the review process for charters, there will be an annual review, if not more frequently, of the targets, standards and performance indicators that have been set for the different branches of the public service under the citizens charter. Government Departments will, of course, be in the lead in their sectors, but the charter unit and the Office of Public Service and Science, which is headed by my right hon. Friend, will obviously play an important part in that.

Photo of Mr John Bowis Mr John Bowis , Battersea

Will my hon. Friend ensure that he monitors not only national charters but local government charters to ensure that they are not just words but actions that are carried out and that, where they are inadequate, as is often the case, they are strengthened?

Photo of Robert Jackson Robert Jackson , Wantage

In the case of services that are delivered by local authorities, obviously a different attitude to review has to be followed. In short, ultimate responsibility for enforcing the standards that are set in local government charters has to lie with the local electorate. We have to recognise that fact. However, there is a central Government role, which is limited to ensuring, first, that citizens have the information that they need about the performance of local authorities and, secondly, that, wherever possible, citizens and local authorities are able to take advantage of choice between competing providers of services.

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon , Halifax

On charters, will the Minister begin to redress the disgraceful exclusion of the homeless from citizens' rights by adopting CHAR's citizens charter for the homeless?

Photo of Robert Jackson Robert Jackson , Wantage

We are obviously very interested in any suggestions for improving and extending the quality and range of our charter effort. I will certainly look at what the hon. Lady has said.

Photo of Mr David Congdon Mr David Congdon , Croydon North East

Does my hon. Friend agree that, given the wide differences in the performance of local authorities, the Audit Commission's initiative to have comparative performance indicators for local authorities should enable local authorities to improve the service that they deliver?

Photo of Robert Jackson Robert Jackson , Wantage

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is what I meant when I said that one of the roles of central Government can be to ensure that information is available so that citizens can make appropriate judgments about the performance of local authorities. The Audit Commission's initiative is very welcome. It stems from Government legislation, and it will have an important effect on the quality and circumstances of local government services.