HC Deb 19 January 1977 vol 924 cc315-6
10. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what discussions he is having with local authorities about the future redistribution of the rate support grant.

Mr. Shore

Official level discussions are continuing with the local authority associations on methods of needs assessment for possible application in 1978–79. The issues will be discussed at the Consultative Council on Local Government Finance at an early meeting this year.

Mr. Renton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that my local authority, the West Sussex County Council, which has always been a relatively low-spending, low-rated authority, finds that its rate support grant, which this year is 55 per cent. of current expenditure, will fall to about 45 per cent. in the year ahead? The message seems to be that the less we spend, the lower proportionately the rate support grant becomes. Will the Government give a firm assurance that those authorities which do what the Government ask by making cuts are not then hit by the Government next year?

Mr. Shore

The hon. Gentleman grossly exaggerates the effect, as he sees it, on particular authorities which "over- spend". Rate support grant is based on resources available, plus an assessment of need as impartially as we can make it. If the combination of those two elements results in the contribution from the Government being lower this year than last, Conservative Members cannot complain on that score because they have urged me to cut the figure by a far greater amount; indeed, they have complained that the rate support grant was too generous. Therefore, Conservative Members should not complain that we are treating any authority with deliberate severity. They must look carefully at the mixture of resources and needs in their areas and compare them with those of other areas.

Mr. Hardy

In these discussions has any local authority mentioned the Conservative policy of abolishing the domestic rate? Will my right hon. Friend seek details of that policy, satisfy himself that industry will not face hefty extra burdens, and ensure that there will be no extra growth in bureaucracy?

Mr. Shore

My hon. Friend opens up the possibility of a fruitful competition between the two Front Benches. I hope to beat the Opposition Front Bench in producing my proposals for changes in rate support grant before the Tories do anything to close the enormous gap in their policy, by which they hope to abolish the domestic rate system and yet turn down local income tax so that there remains nothing in the middle.