HC Deb 19 January 1977 vol 924 cc303-4
4. Mr. Newton

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is yet in a position to announce any conclusions from the process of consultation on the Layfield Report on Local Government Finance.

Mr. Shore

We are pressing ahead with our studies of Layfield and considering carefully the views put to us by local government and other interested organisations. Decisions will be announced as soon as practicable.

Mr. Newton

Is the Secretary of State aware that this week the Essex County Council proposed a rate increase of nearly 20 per cent. together with substantial reductions in services and a reduction of 2,000 or more in staff? Does he agree that, apart from the hardship, this will cause a significant further erosion in confidence in the rating system? Does he not agree, therefore, that his thoughts on the Layfield Report are urgently required?

Mr. Shore

It is not for me to comment upon the individual circumstances of councils. They are responsible to their own electorates for what they do. I am, of course, aware that there are a number of problems that have been discussed in the House in the context of this year's rate support grant. Solutions could be found in the follow-up to the Layfield Report, which we are still studying.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the whole issue of the implementation of the recommendations of Layfield can be seen and discussed adequately only in relation to regional policy? When can we have a debate on that subject?

Mr. Shore

There could be some relevance between these two matters. The possibility of a debate on the Green Paper is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Mr. Michael Morris

As the Layfield Report called for local responsibility, will the Secretary of State explain what is holding up his publishing the names of those local authorities that have overspent in the current year?

Mr. Shore

To the best of my knowledge I am not holding up any such publication. This is something which is done by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy based on CIPFA—Department of the Environment returns. I shall look into the matter to see whether we can help.

Mr. Skinner

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that over the years there have been constant arguments about the percentage level of rates as a proportion of average wages and that over the past 20 years there has been little variation? Does he not agree that the Labour movement—and my right hon. Friend is in the Cabinet—believes in the thesis that rates provide services for the working class? Does he not agree that if rates were not paid these services would not be available to those sections of the community?

Mr. Shore

I have no doubt that provision through the rate support grant and rates is an important part of the local government financial system. I have no doubt that our system is of benefit to all our communities and particularly, because of the needs element in the rate support grant, to the communities which are most vulnerable and in greatest need. This is a system that we should not lightly discard, which the Opposition have apparently agreed to do by threatening to abandon the whole domestic rating system.

Mr. Heseltine

Does not the Secretary of State understand that his party has been in power for three years and is responsible for yet another massive increase in rates next year? It is unsatisfactory for him to say that he is not prepared to give a date for the formulation of his conclusions on Layfield.

Mr. Shore

That is not a very good point. As the hon. Gentleman should know and as his predecessor would certainly have known, we asked for comments on Layfield to come in by the end of November. In the last six weeks we have seen a considerable volume of evidence from people who have been consulted. I cannot have it said that we are being sluggardly or dilatory in our consideration of Layfield. We shall put forward our proposals when we have considered what the many interested and expert people have had to say.

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