Use of Resources (Lambeth)

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24 March 1993.

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Photo of Mr John Bowis Mr John Bowis , Battersea 12:00, 24 March 1993

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he last visited the borough of Lambeth to discuss the efficient use of resources.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

How an authority uses its resources is a matter for its members, who are accountable to their local electorate. The voters of Lambeth must be deeply concerned about the staggering allegations of maladministration in their council's performance, as revealed in the recent report of Lambeth's chief executive.

Photo of Mr John Bowis Mr John Bowis , Battersea

Does my hon. Friend agree that the people of Lambeth cannot complain about lack of resources from the Government when each dwelling in Lambeth receives £500 more than each dwelling in Conservative Wandsworth next door, but that they can certainly complain about the level of corruption in the Labour council, as recognised now even by Streatham Labour party? Does he agree that they can also complain about the level of inefficiency which leads to uncollected rent, rates and community charge now totalling £140 million, which could and should be spent on better services at lower cost?

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

My hon. Friend makes a powerful case. As he knows, the standard spending assessment methodology is applied consistently across all local authorities in the country, and as a consequence of that methodology Lambeth receives a very high SSA, although it may not do so if Opposition Members get their way. My hon. Friend also points out that, despite that support, in the year just ended Lambeth managed to set the highest community charge of all, at £425.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Norwood

I congratulate the Minister for Housing, Planning and Construction, the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), on coming to Lambeth this week to discuss the efficient allocation of resources and the city challenge scheme. I hope that the example that he set of co-operation with local authorities will be followed by some of his fellow Ministers.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

The best evidence for co-operation between the Government and Lambeth is that Lambeth council was one of the winners of city challenge on merit and, subject to the usual procedures, will receive some £37·5 million over the next five years for much-needed work. That is the most effective answer to the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Dickens Mr Geoffrey Dickens , Littleborough and Saddleworth

Is my hon. Friend aware that in Lambeth they are still doing the Lambeth walk with £20 million worth of rent arrears and £18·2 million of rate arrears? What the hell are Lambeth councillors up to? Why should they ask the Government for more money when they do not get down to doing the job themselves?

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

My hon. Friend makes most eloquently the point about the failings of Lambeth council over many years. The House will be relieved that he did not go into a dance to demonstrate it.

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill , Streatham

Can the Minister confirm that the London borough of Lambeth is co-operating fully with the police and the Audit Commission in all their investigations, and will he join me in welcoming the public inquiry established under Elizabeth Appleby QC? Can he confirm that the minority Labour administration's correct proposal to close down immediately the directorate most affected by the allegations was scandalously defeated by an unholy alliance of suspended and Conservative councillors?

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

The most important development recently in Lambeth has been a statement from the hon. Gentleman issued by the Streatham branch of the Labour party in which the hon. Gentleman, with considerable support, called for the immediate retendering of building maintenance contracts and for Lambeth council's huge finance and legal services departments to be put out to tender. I ask the hon. Gentleman, first, to persuade all the local Labour councillors to back that and, secondly, to get his own Front Bench to agree with it.

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford , Croydon Central

Is my hon. Friend aware that the mismanagement of Lambeth council has knock-on effects which go well beyond Lambeth? In my constituency, for example, children from Lambeth who are in care are being looked after in private care homes in Croydon. The lack of speed of payments from Lambeth council is such that many of those homes are now in extreme difficulty. The payments are not coming forth from Lambeth council.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. There are knock-on effects which go beyond the boundaries of Lambeth. It is in all our interests that Lambeth councillors organise themselves more properly in the next five years than they have in the past 10 years.

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson , Newcastle upon Tyne North

When the Minister visited Lambeth last week, did he discuss the use of resources in the building management south east division of the Property Services Agency and the allegations of fraud and malpractice, including false payments to bogus companies, misuse of Government resources, tax fiddles and nepotism?

Does he agree that, at a time when he is calling for an independent inquiry into allegations of malpractice in local authorities, the public interest can be served only by an independent public inquiry into his Department's agency? Does he agree that anything less than that procedure would serve only to confirm suspicions of a ministerial cover-up and double standards? Can he tell the House that the privatisation of BMSE will be suspended until an independent inquiry publishes its findings?

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

The House will note that attention has shifted from local government. With regard to the Property Services Agency, hon. Members have been told that a full inquiry is under way. To date, that inquiry has not discovered any evidence of fraud, although there was a small piece of undercharged work. The allegations that the hon. Gentleman has made today, and which are repeated in a national newspaper, will be taken over by that inquiry. As none of the allegations has so far been substantiated, there is no reason on earth why there should be a delay in the sale of PSA businesses. We are confident that the sale of the five businesses will not be significantly affected.