HC Deb 04 June 1980 vol 985 cc1420-1
25. Mr. Gummer

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he intends to take steps to redress the balance of central Government grants so that rural areas get a better proportion of funding.

Mr. King

We acted in the 1980–81 rate support grant settlement to halt the drift of grant from the rural areas which had occurred under the previous Administration. The new grant arrangements now being developed should provide for a fairer distribution of resources in future.

Mr. Gummer

I thank my right hon. Friend for what he has already done. Is he aware that Suffolk suffered so much cutback that its share fell from just under 1 per cent. of the rate support grant for the whole country to 0.7 per cent. in four years of Labour Government? We desperately need a fairer share of the money that is available. Does he realise that the country areas have their priorities as well, and there is rural poverty which is no more attractive because it happens to be thatched?

Mr. King

I understand why my hon. Friend raises this point. In checking the figures I noted that during the period of the last Government Suffolk suffered a 24 per cent. drop in its share of the needs element, which obviously raised considerable hardships such as were faced by many other shire counties. We are anxious to achieve a fairer settlement. I am glad that we were able to make some small movement in that direction in this year's settlement. We have these issues very much in mind as we continue to prepare the new system of needs assessment.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does my right hon. Friend agree that towns exist within rural areas for rate support grant purposes? Such towns as Macclesfield which, like Manchester, were in the vanguard of the Industrial Revolution, require considerable funds to bring their infrastructure up to date. That applies particularly to drains and sewerage, which was referred to earlier today. Does this aspect feature in the Minister's consideration of allocation?

Mr. King

Drains and sewers are a matter for the water authority. We are considering the position of the North-West in the allocation of capital expenditure graints for water authorities. I am well aware, as I previously stated, of the problems that exist. The issues that my hon. Friend raised are part of the difficulties that we are tackling to try to achieve a fairer method of distribution between the competing claims of different parts of the country.