HC Deb 30 April 1980 vol 983 cc1360-2
7. Mr. Mellor

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his latest estimate of average rate increases to be imposed by local authorities for 1980–81.

Mr. Heseltine

Returns now received from all rating authorities show an average domestic rate increase for England and Wales of 27 per cent., and an average non-domestic rate increase of 23 per cent.

Mr. Mellor

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Is he aware that certain " big-spender" Labour authorities are saying that it is Government policy, and not their financial incontinence, which has led to the huge, above average rises that they have announced? Will he comment on that? Is he also aware that all too many of those huge rate rises imposed by the Labour-controlled authorities are not being spent on better essential services, but are being used for excess bureaucracy and waste?

Mr. Heseltine

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend——

Mr. Snape

I bet you are.

Mr. Heseltine

Any analysis of the levels of rates fixed by individual authorities shows that the overwhelming proportion of the high levels are fixed under Labour-controlled authorities and the overwhelming majority of low levels are fixed under Conservative-controlled local authorities.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

Will the Secretary of State be honest for once, and admit that a large proportion of the 27 per cent. increase is a result of the inflation created by the policies of himself and other Ministers?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman will be fully aware that the bulk of local authority expenditure is made up of wage costs—about 70 per cent. on current account. He will be well aware that the bulk of the increases this year are not simply ongoing awards but are results of the Clegg implementations, which were broadly established by the Government which he supported.

Mr. Durant

Is the Minister aware that the argument of the district councils and the Association of County Councils is that they are worried about Government interference with their rights? At the same time they are asking for control over public expenditure by local authorities. Surely, the Government are taking the right steps.

Mr. Heseltine

I have no doubt that—as Conservative local government has proved—it is possible to constrain the levels of public expenditure at a local level. The difficulty that local government faces across the country is that Labour Members are constantly encouraging Labour-controlled authorities to increase expenditure.

Mr. Oakes

What is the Secretary of State's estimate of the number of Tory-controlled authorities with low levels of rate expenditure which will have to issue a supplementary rate in the autumn?

Mr. Heseltine

That is a matter entirely for the individual local authorities, but I understand that there are Labour-councillors canvassing for election who are prepared to countenance supplementary rate increases if they gain control of local authorities.