§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
I beg to ask the President of the Local Government Board whether his attention has been called to the indebtedness of Local Authorities in England and Wales which, by the last Return, amounts to £195,442,397; and to the fact that the local debt is now 42.7 per cent. higher than it was in 1880, while during the same period the rateable value of the whole country, excluding the Metropolis, 1653 has only risen 8.6 per cent.; and whether, under these circumstances, the Government will cause inquiry to be made into the financial condition of Local Authorities?
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. LONG,) Wilts, Devizes
The indebtedness of Local Authorities in England and Wales, inclusive of the Metropolis, was, according to the last Return, as stated, £195,442,000, and this shows an increase of 42.7 per cent. since 1880. During the same period the rateable value of the whole country, excluding the Metropolis, has risen 8.6 per cent., and, including the Metropolis, about 12 per cent. The increase of indebtedness in respect to harbours, piers, and docks amounts to £6,362,400, and it should be borne in mind that the debt in respect of these undertakings, which amounts to about £31,000, is with very few exceptions not a charge on local rates, but on tolls, dues, &c. A considerable portion of the increase on the outstanding loans is attributed to the works acquired or undertaken by Municipal Corporations and other Local Bodies in their capacity of Sanitary Authorities. There has been a large expenditure on waterworks, gasworks, sewerage, and sewerage disposal, markets, street improvements, and similar undertakings. A considerable proportion of the expenditure, such as that for waterworks and gasworks, is the result of the Local Authorities themselves undertaking the supply of gas and water, instead of leaving the supply to companies. These undertakings, the outstanding debt incurred in respect of which exceeds £51,000,000, are to a large extent remunerative. In respect of the provision of schools under the Education Acts, there has also been a large capital expenditure during the period referred to. Notwithstanding the circumstances which I have mentioned, the increase of local indebtedness as so large that it is well worthy of attention; but I do not consider that any advantage would result from an inquiry into the financial condition of the Local Authorities of particular districts, and clearly an inquiry into the condition of the districts of all Local Authorities, which number many thousands, could not be undertaken.