HC Deb 13 October 1976 vol 917 cc421-2
13. Mr. Younger

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities regarding reductions in expenditure and curtailment of services.

Mr. Millan

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has recognised the necessity for its member authorities to continue to exercise the utmost economy. It has also conveyed to me the views of member authorities that the reductions in local authority expenditure required to conform with the last White Paper on Public Expenditure (Cmnd. 6393) would entail the curtailment of services and some redundancy.

Mr. Younger

As the total failure of the Government's economic policies is forcing them to demand these cuts by the local authorities, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether Sir George Sharp has made it clear that if the Government's cuts are insisted upon there will be a large number of redundancies? Will the right hon. Gentleman introduce a ceiling on rate increases to make sure that spendthrift councils do not merely pass on their higher costs to their ratepayers, who are already hard-pressed enough?

Mr. Millan

I consider that question to be utter hypocrisy. The hon. Gentleman is a member of an Opposition party which as recently as Monday of this week called for savage cuts in public expenditure, and they must include local authority expenditure. What we have called for is a freeze, and even a freeze has employment implications, as I indicated in my original reply.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if the rate support grant is cut by the rate projected, it will mean in the Lothian Region 700 redundancies among teachers and a 40 per cent. cut in street lighting? Is he prepared for cuts that would have that result?

Mr. Millan

I have not yet said what the rate support grant settlement for 1977–78 will be. That will be a matter for negotiation between me and the Convention at meetings starting on 5th November. Therefore, I do not accept the figures that my hon. Friend has just given.

Mr. MacCormick

Does the Secretary of State accept, from the SNP Bench, that the setting up of the ridiculous Strathclyde Region was due entirely to the previous Conservative Government and that the biggest change and improvement we could make would be to get rid of it?

Mr. Millan

Again, I do not accept that a reform of local government would make a significant impact on the problem of local authority expenditure.

Mr. Rifkind

Does the Secretary of State accept that it would be quite unfair for local authorities which in the past have obeyed the Government's guidelines about expenditure to be treated in exactly the same way as those which have deliberately rejected the Government's requests? Does he not agree that there should be a differential in the approach to local authorities based on their past response to pressure from the Government?

Mr. Millan

That is a matter that I shall be discussing with the Convention. However, if the hon. Gentleman knows anything about the rate support grant system—which is, perhaps, doubtful—he will know that it is extremely difficult to make the kind of discrimination that he is suggesting for Scotland.

Mr. Budgen

Will the right hon. Gentleman please cease his insulting evasions and tell the House what his calculations are for the increase in unemployment in Scotland as a consequence of the increase in interest rates?

Mr. Millan

I have answered that question on a number of occasions, but in any case it does not arise out of this Question.