New Clause 5 — Regional Management Structures

Part of Fire and Rescue Services Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 15th March 2004.

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Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Minister of State (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Local and Regional Government) 8:15 pm, 15th March 2004

As the hon. Gentleman knows only too well, we have published a White Paper and given a commitment to publish draft legislation, which we hope to do in July this year. There will also be a vote in a referendum at some subsequent date, probably in October. That, of course, is dependent on good progress being made with the other matters that have to be dealt with before the referendums can take place.

We have strayed far from the provisions of the Bill, and I would like to come back to the matters in hand. I have given assurances about the use of clause 2(2)(b); they are on the record. If we need to act on grounds of public safety, it will by definition be something that has to be done quickly, so I cannot accept the constraint that subsection (1)(a) and amendment No. 3 would place on the ability of the Secretary of State to take urgent action to protect the public.

Subsection (1)(b) has a rather different objective from subsection (1)(a). It seeks again to require the Secretary of State to commission an independent study, but this time into the success of regional management boards—including, if I read the intent of the hon. Gentleman correctly, any negative impact on the management capability of individual authorities of having some of their functions pooled at regional level. Here, I can reassure him that we are thinking along similar lines.

Of course any responsible Government will want to assess and evaluate the impact of their policies, including those required under the fire and rescue national framework. But the independent evaluation that the hon. Gentleman suggests need not await a study commissioned

"within 12 months of the coming into force of any part of this Act".

That role has already been given to the independent Audit Commission, which has agreed to take on the task. Indeed, it has already published, on 25 February, a consultation paper setting out its draft comprehensive performance assessment framework for fire and rescue authorities. It proposes to implement the framework early next year, with outcomes publicly reported before autumn 2005.

As the hon. Gentleman would expect, value for money will of course be to the fore, but the commission also specifically plans to assess the effectiveness of the work undertaken through regional management boards and to report on the management capability of individual fire and rescue authorities. It plans, in other words, to address the very issues about which he expressed concern, and it plans to address them sooner rather than, as the amendment envisages, later. Additionally, we are required by clause 24 to report periodically to Parliament on the delivery of the national framework, which of course includes regional collaboration. There will therefore be every opportunity for Parliament to keep a close watch on this matter. Because they are on the one hand damaging, and on the other unnecessary, I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman not to press his new clause and the linked amendment to a vote.