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Housing and Planning Bill - Report (5th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 25th April 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 8:45 pm, 25th April 2016

My Lords, I hope I gave a full explanation in my opening remarks of our approach to the DPRRC’s recommendations—where we have accepted and taken on board its comments, as well as those of your Lordships—and why we believe that Amendments 121CA and 135D are impractical. Amendment 121G repeats a provision that we have already laid.

The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, talked about the figures on outsourcing and shared services in the impact assessment. The key point is that, in many services, local authorities have undertaken significant reform and shown significant cost reductions. Some examples are set out in the impact assessment. However, in respect of planning services, authorities have been slow to do such reform, which is why we want to go forward with these pilots.

Amendment 123B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, proposes an alternative pilot to test fee flexibility alongside the competition pilot scheme. I cannot accept this amendment because we already have the necessary powers and are already taking forward the proposal with the intention of evaluating its effectiveness. Section 303 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 allows us, through regulations, to set different fees for different local planning authorities, although Clause 141 of this Bill will make such an approach easier.

Our recent consultation paper included a proposal to test the provision of greater flexibility in fee setting, on top of our proposals for national increases in fees linked to inflation, where local authorities come forward with ambitious plans for reforms and improved performance. The noble Lord raised concerns that our proposals in the consultation are too narrow. The reference to a fast-track service was one example. We will explore a range of options for fee flexibility with areas and have started to have those conversations in some areas.