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Child Poverty Bill

Part of Bill Presented — Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:05 pm on 20th July 2009.

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Shadow Minister (Women), Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 5:05 pm, 20th July 2009

My right hon. Friend refers to the issue of quangos. All I would say to him is that, of course, the next Conservative Government will look to ensure that the number of quangos is significantly reduced, so that taxpayers' money is not wasted on bureaucratic bodies that achieve no aims.

There are aspects of the Bill that we support. We welcome the emphasis on local issues and action, because poverty will never be defeated by grand strategies dreamt up by a Minister in Whitehall. It will take determined work by local government, in partnership with other agencies and, crucially, the voluntary sector. We do not feel that centrally issued diktats will result in the best help for the people who really need it. That is why in Committee we will press the Government for more detail on how the proposals would work in practice, and on how onerous the duty on local authorities will be.

We have concerns about the emphasis on partner authorities for local councils-the police, strategic health authorities, transport bodies and so on. Again, we will need to be absolutely clear about what that emphasis means in practice, and how much discretion local authorities will have. Surely Government should trust local bodies to know what is best for their communities. We would like to see recognition in the Bill of the valuable work done by charities and other community groups-by those who are working on the ground in the most hard-pressed areas of the country. They often achieve very good results for the people whom they are helping-often, I am afraid, in the face of what Government do to them, rather than alongside Government. Those bodies are central to tackling poverty in the UK, and the Government should be doing all that they can to make their life easier.

It is not good enough simply to place more obligations on local authorities without them having the resources to act, so we will look to ensure that the Bill does not simply place more bureaucratic burdens on local authorities without giving them the freedom to innovate and act in accordance with local needs. They need the flexibility to work with whatever organisation it is necessary to work with to tackle poverty in their area. We do not want to see them attempting to fulfil their responsibilities simply by appointing a child poverty officer or creating a new department and leaving them alone to get on with the job. Co-ordinating action will be important at local authority level. Many councils will already be doing good work in this area, but bringing that work together with a clear focus on child and family poverty is what will make a difference.

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