HC Deb 10 November 1976 vol 919 cc401-3
11. Mr. David Steel

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from local authorities concerning the levels of rate support grant.

Mr. Millan

At my meeting with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on 5th November, I informed authorities that the rate support grant settlement for 1977–78 will be related to the February 1976 White Paper on Public Expenditure, Cmnd 6393. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has conveyed to me the views of member authorities that the reductions in local authority expenditure would entail the curtailment of services and some redundancy.

Mr. Steel

Has the right hon. Gentleman found a solution to the difficult problem of ensuring that local authorities which have kept within the expenditure targets do not find themselves penalised through the rate support grant mechan- ism in respect of authorities which have exceeded their expenditure targets?

Mr. Millan

The guidelines were not meant to be absolute, because the Scottish Office does not have the kind of information that would enable us to lay down firm lines. The guidelines were meant to be indications of what would be reasonable, given that we wanted authorities to keep within an overall target I am sorry that there is no mechanism within the rate support grant that can be identified and be acceptable to the local authorities themselves to enable me to do what the hon. Gentleman suggests. I know that this is a sore point with local authorities which feel that they have co-operated with the Government and that they are being penalised. If I could deal with that problem I should be happy to attempt to do so, but so far I have seen no way of doing that, and I think that local authorities take the same view as I do.

Mr. Dalyell

Sensitive as I am to the dangers of special pleading, may I none the less ask my right hon. Friend whether he recognises that Lothian Region has something of a special problem because of the new town of Livingston, as regards both size and the state it is at as a new town?

Mr. Millan

Livingston is not the only new town in Scotland. Every local authority feels that it has a special problem of one sort or another.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I acknowledge the need for government at all levels to contribute to cuts in public expenditure, but would not the right hon. Gentleman get more co-operation from local authorities if he first set his own house in order, and that of the central Government, by cutting back new schemes of public expenditure or reducing the burden of legislation which passes down to local authorities? Would it not be much better if he were to proceed on the basis of co-operation instead of dictation?

Mr. Millan

The hon. Gentleman has, as usual, dodged the issue of local government expenditure by pretending that there is some painless way of getting local government expenditure under the kind of control that the Government have indicated. The hon. Gentleman pretends in this House that it can all be done painlessly when it comes down to local level, but the leader of the Conservative Group on Strathclyde Regional Council only last week was calling for a further reduction in public expenditure, at the expense of 5,000 jobs. Is that what the hon. Gentleman wants?

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