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My Lords, I support Amendments 120A and 121. I was going to try to stick to the proper script but, given that everybody before me has left the running order and spoken about the things they are really interested in, I am going to do the same. First, I thank my noble friend the Minister for listening to what was said last week and to what local government has been saying for a number of weeks, and for clarifying how some of this pilot stuff will work.
Since I am on my feet, I am going to speak to fees. I am in favour of private sector competition on the basis that I honestly believe it will drive fees up. It is the first time I can recall having private sector competition to drive up the cost of a service, but I think this will do it. At the moment, we are spending about £150 million a year as taxpayers subsidising the planning system, and we have spent £450 million over the past three years doing it. Clearly, the fee structure does not recoup the full costs. If the private sector is going to come in and compete against us, it is going to want at least to cover its costs. Even if it is doing it for a few years as a loss leader, it is not going to want to lose a lot of money, so local government should be able to get its fees set at a much higher rate. That will allow us to staff our planning departments to a much more suitable level, given the demand that will be coming through, and that will allow local government to win the competition hands down because the public will trust what we are delivering and any sensible developer will want to go through an established route rather than risk competition in the private sector.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said that an impact assessment had said that competition reduced the cost of refuse collection by about 20%. Ours has been brought back in-house since I have been leader and that has saved 20%. While private sector competition should be encouraged, it is not always the route that the final decision should go down.