HC Deb 12 December 1979 vol 975 cc1296-7
14. Mr. Peter Lloyd

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what response he has received from local authorities to his request for economies in local government spending in 1980–81.

Mr. Heseltine

Local authorities have not yet completed their plans for 1980–81. However, the local authority associations have assured me that the economies which we are seeking can be achieved.

Mr. Lloyd

I am grateful for that generally encouraging reply. What action does my right hon. Friend propose to take over authorities such as the London borough of Lambeth, which have expressed their unwillingness to co-operate with his calls for economy?

Mr. Heseltine

I shall ask the House to give me powers to deal with those authorities which have flagrantly and consistently ignored the Government's request for proper and prudent management of their affairs.

Mr. Crowther

Does the Secretary of State agree that enormous economies have already been made in local government during the last four or five years? Has it not now reached the point where any further economies will lead to the public being deprived of services to which they are entitled?

Mr. Heseltine

In one respect I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Under the previous Government, capital expenditure by local authorities was gravely reduced on a wide basis. Of course, on staff levels, as my right hon. Friend has said, we now have a situation where we have the largest ever number of people employed in local government, subject only to the change that my hon. Friend has just announced.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Will my right hon. Friend note the shining example of the borough of Preston, which reduced its rates from 32p to 8p in the pound, which reduction was brought about, among other things, by a reduction in staff without hardship or heartbreak? Will he offer that as an example to the London boroughs of Lambeth and Haringey as a way in which they could reduce their staff and rates to the benefit of their ratepayers?

Mr. Heseltine

It would be very difficult for me to improve on my hon. Friend's contribution.

Mr. John Grant

Is it not time that Ministers stopped shedding crocodile tears about the role of the voluntary bodies, and in particular stopped urging local authorities to continue their support for them while at the same time cutting off the essential funds that make it possible for that to happen?

Mr. Heseltine

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Labour Party voted so often for policies of that sort that they must have become used to it by now.