HC Deb 06 December 1978 vol 959 cc1397-400
8. Mr. Edwin Wainwright

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will list the amounts of Government grants to local councils over each of the past five years; and what will be the amount of grants for the year 1979–80.

Mr. Shore

Over 70 different grants are paid to local authorities. By far the largest of these is the rate support grant. The 1978 rate support grant order now before the House envisages that the needs element of rate support grant for 1979–80 will be £4,715 million at outturn prices. I shall publish figures of needs element and of total rate support grant for the past five years in the Official Report.

Mr. Wainwright

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but is he aware that the metropolitan district in South Yorkshire is dismayed at what has been happening there over the last two or three years, that there are large areas of dereliction and that there are pockets of high unemployment? Will he do more for this area to make certain that it gets its fair share, taking into account what has been missing in the past?

Mr. Shore

I am aware of the difficulties in the South Yorkshire area, and in the Dearne Valley in particular. However, I remind my hon. Friend that under the rate support grant for 197–0, which we have just completed, Barnsley will gain the equivalent of a 2.2p rate, Doncaster a 1.2p rate and Rotherham a 2.7p rate. Thus, in terms of RSG, I believe that the area is being helped. As my hon. Friend knows, we have been able also to assist in approving the South Yorkshire canal scheme, to which I know that he attaches great importance.

Mr. Pardoe

Has the Secretary of State, in assessing the balance of funds under the RSG to go to the rural and inner city areas, studied the report of the Child Poverty Action Group entitled"Rural Poverty "? Has he noticed that that report says that the problems in the rural areas will reach crisis proportions in the next five years and that, over the last 15 years, far too much public money has gone from the rural areas into the inner city areas?

Mr. Shore

I am aware that there are problems in rural areas, and we try to help them in particular ways, particularly through the Development Commission helping with small advance factories in areas of unemployment in rural districts. I hesitate to come to more than a preliminary view at the moment because we are looking at the whole range of problems and reports connected with rural areas, but I would certainly not use the word"crisis"on the basis of the information that I have at present.

Mr. Hardy

Although the grant for next year may be a little better than the unsatisfactory amount provided for the current year, does not my right hon. Friend consider that the present determination of rate support insufficiently regards the acute need in older industrial areas, particularly those with small communities and those in the coalfields, and that if their needs were adequately reflected the rate support grant arrangements for South Yorkshire would be much better than they are likely to be for next year?

Mr. Shore

The rate support grant tries, above all, to identify and measure need in as objective a way as we can find. Although there are problems in the older industrial towns, taking the national picture which emerges through the RSG, it appears that the large cities and conurbation areas, and certainly their central districts, have greater per capita needs than the smaller industrial towns.

Mr. Skinner

But is my right hon. Friend aware that in Derbyshire the local Tory newspaper, the Derbyshire Times, ran a story last week that he had deprived the county council and thereby the ratepayers of about £9.2 million? May I be assured that this is merely a question of redistribution, that the district councils, and the other councils within Derbyshire which also levy a rate, will get compensating amounts and that therefore that £9 million is a false figure?

Mr. Shore

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. His question gives me a chance to make a general point and a particular one. In fact, the RSG total affecting the county of Derbyshire is an increase of 0.5p in terms of the rate, which is equivalent to over £750,000. But the main change, as my hon. Friend has suggested, is that the needs element will be paid direct to the districts, which I believe to be right. There is no reason why the county precept plus the district rate should change overall, but there will obviously be differences between the two. In some districts rates may fall, but in others counties must obviously increase the precept because they are no longer getting as much of the RSG as they did.

Mr. Sainsbury

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the RSG being allocated in as objective a manner as possible. Can he explain why the factors"persons over 65"and"persons over 75 ", which must have a major influence on the responsibilities of local authorities, are not used as determinants in the regression analysis in the needs element?

Mr. Shore

I suspect that the reason is that there are other factors in the package which goes into the RSG needs element and which are reasonable surrogates for the factors to which the hon. Gentleman pointed.

Following is the information:

The figures, at outturn prices, are as follows:
Needs element £million Total rate support grant (needs, resources and domestic element £million
1974–75 2,855 4,384
1975–76 3,489 5,788
1976–77 3,817 6,295
1977–78 3,923 6,470
1978–79 4,306 7,055
The figures for 1978–79 are based on the first increase order.