HC Deb 27 February 1980 vol 979 cc1330-1
2. Mr. Renton

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make public the criteria by which he will judge the efficiency of individual local authorities when deciding the allocation of rate support grant under the unitary method.

Mr. King

Under block grant, an authority spending significantly above its assessed standard expenditure will receive a declining rate of grant. The method of assessing standard expenditure will be developed in full consultation with the local authority associations.

Mr. Renton

Under the unitary system, will ratepayers be able to judge, in due course, whether their local authority is efficient? If so, will the system be explained in a manner that is comprehensible to ratepayers? Is my right hon. Friend aware that multiple regression analysis does not receive instant understanding from readers of the Mid Sussex Times—or from their Member of Parliament?

Mr. King

The principle of block grant and the standard rate poundage is principally a method for the distribution of the public funds involved in the rate support grant. Various anomalies will arise under the standard rate poundage. My hon. Friend's worthy concern for his ratepayers will be best met by the publication of comparable information about the performance of different authorities under the various categories. That is an important ingredient of the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill. I hope that it will help all ratepayers.

Mr. Dubs

In looking at the type of information that will be published on a comparative basis, will the Minister consider such an important yardstick as the number of council houses that stand empty, awaiting sale? Is he aware that in the borough of Wandsworth there are 700 such council houses? Is that not a typical example of gross inefficiency? Is it not the consequence of policies that have been foisted upon local authorities by the Government?

Mr. King

If we are to look at this issue objectively, we must consider the number of empty houses in other boroughs—for example, in the borough of Lambeth, I believe that there are five times as many houses standing empty as a result of its policy of municipalisation. People are being deprived of any possibility of occupancy.

Mr. Squire

When my right hon. Friend considers the rate support grant, will he also look carefully at the submissions of the joint authority associations that he has recently received? They go some way to meet the Government's proposals for control of expenditure. Is he aware that, in addition, they remove some of the more objectionable features of the present system?

Mr. King

I can confirm that we are now considering their submissions carefully. We hope to meet the associations very shortly.

Mr. Oakes

As the Government still do not have the slightest idea how to operate part VI of the Bill and no chance of getting agreement with local authority associations on that, will they drop the provision at least from the present Bill and negotiate further with local authorities until an acceptable scheme is produced?

Mr. King

The right hon. Gentleman would be the first to criticise us if we did not have meaningful consultations with local authority associations on the details of how the block grant scheme will work. That is precisely what we are committed to, and that work is under way.