HC Deb 11 December 1974 vol 883 cc496-8
9. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimate he has made of the increase in local rates which will take place in Scotland in 1975.

Mr. Millan

No such estimate is possible pending the settlement of rate support grant.

Mr. Taylor

Is the Minister of State aware of the serious alarm in Scotland at what the level of rates might be in 1975? What steps is he taking to reduce some of the spending which has been estimated? In particular, what steps is he taking to stop the empire building in some of the new authorities? Finally, does he agree that it was a kick in the teeth to the ratepayers of Scotland when the Government yesterday presented a Bill which will add £7 million to the amount that they have to pay?

Mr. Millan

On the question of local authority expenditure, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that a circular has been issued drawing particular attention to the need to prevent excessive increases in staff costs.

Mr. Alexander Wilson

Will the Minister accept that under local government reorganisation there will be huge increases in rates? Will he tell the House how much of that increase will be directly attributable to the astronomical rise in wages and salaries now being agreed for officials?

Mr. Millan

The Government have made it clear that we do not see local government reorganisation as an excuse for local authorities either to indulge in empire building or to grant excessive increases in salaries. These matters are not the direct responsibility of the Secretary of State, but we have drawn the attention of the new local authorities to the dangers. We do not believe that many of the difficulties that have apparently arisen in England need arise, or will arise, in Scotland.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

To what extent will rates be increased because of the reorganisation of local government, and particularly the salaries' bill, to which reference has been made? What positive action is the Minister taking to try to ensure that rate increases are kept to the absolute minimum?

Mr. Millan

The answer to the first question is that there is an element in the existing rate support grant for the current year that takes account of the additional expenses that are necessarily incurred during local government reorganisation. Next year there will be an element in the rate support grant arising from reorganisation, but there will be nothing like the exaggerated increases that many people apparently believe are likely to occur.

We have drawn to the attention of local authorities the dangers of spending excessively on salaries or, indeed, on anything else because of reorganisation. In the last analysis, however, some of these matters must be decided by the local authorities themselves, and the House, which in other circumstances plays a great deal of lip-service to local authority freedom, must not expect the Secretary of State to exercise powers over local authorities which he does not have in any event.

Mr. MacCormick

Will the Minister accept that in an area such as Argyll, which is about to be swallowed up in the Strathclyde Region, there is widespread alarm and despondency among all sections of the population? Does he agree that the inevitable consequential rate in- crease could be abolished merely by stopping the creation of Strathclyde and dismembering it immediately?

Mr. Millan

That matter was considered exhaustively during the passage of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill. Now that we have the regions established, it is important that they should be made to work. Whatever may have been the views of individual Members in the first place about the establishment of these regions, this constant criticism of and attacks upon the regions are bound to fail, because it is impossible to dismember the regions. What is more, these attacks and criticisms are damaging the morale of the elected members, the new officials, and people in the areas. These regions have been established and will operate under the new authorities from May of next year. The important thing is to ensure that they operate effectively.