HC Deb 30 June 1980 vol 987 cc1074-6
11. Mr. Anderson

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what discussions or other contact he has had with Welsh local authorities concerning over-spending; and what sanctions he has in mind to ensure compliance with his policy.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

On many occasions, including meetings with the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government Finance, I have made it clear that local authority expenditure must be kept within the Government's expenditure targets. For England and Wales, the returns of local authorities' planned expenditure for this year indicated current expenditure well in excess of our target and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and I have asked all local authorities to revise their budgets by 1 August. I trust that cooperation and good sense will prevail and sanctions will not be necessary.

Mr. Anderson

Will the Secretary of State confirm that Swansea and Afan are within the Government's penalty zone? Will he accept that the rate in the pound is no real guide to an authority's actual expenditure? Is not the Government's so-called rough justice no justice at all and a further example of the Conservative view that the man in Whitehall knows best—better than the local authorities?

Mr. Edwards

All that we are asking is that the local authorities should conform to the overall economic policies of the Government on public spending, as they have always done under previous Governments. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will encourage his local authority to act in that way. If it has reduced its expenditure it will not be affected by any action—representing rough justice or not.

Mr. Delwyn Williams

Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that if local authorities in the South overspend yet again they will not be bailed out yet again at the expense of authorities, such as those in Powys, which have always obeyed every order to cut back and now face further cutbacks, which they cannot afford?

Mr. Edwards

The district authorities in Powys have a good record this year. Their rate increases are among the lowest anywhere. We hope that we shall be able to proceed on the basis that only a few serious offenders will have to be penalised under the powers available to us.

Mr. Alan Williams

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind that many Welsh local authorities, West Glamorgan and Swansea included, are experiencing falling populations at the same time as an increase in the proportion of elderly in the population? Rate increases therefore become inevitable. At a time of soaring unemployment, how can he justify the use of sanctions and jackboot methods to withdraw money from areas that need more pumped into them?

Mr. Edwards

Because public spending is helping to kill productive industry and destroy jobs. There can be no excuse, at a time when the country needs to economise for local authorities in many parts of the country increasing their manpower.