§ 16. Mr. Dubs
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his estimate of the total sums of money allocated to local authorities from 1981–82 under the rate support grant settlement and which some local authorities will not receive because their expenditure will exceed the grant related expenditure level.
§ Mr. Dubs
Is it not a fact that the amount of money allocated to local authorities that will not now be made available to them—because of the working of the block grant system—must be at least £150 million and may well be in excess of that figure? As local government has borne a heavy share of the Government's expenditure cuts, should not the money which is not being made available to local authorities be made available to those authorities in need? Local governments should not have to bear such a heavy burden of the cuts.
§ Mr. King
I do not quite understand the hon. Gentleman's point. The money that has been allocated under the rate support grant, and under our present proposals, will be allocated to local government. The only thing to be affected by the block grant system is the distribution between authorities. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the position. If he wishes to make some other point he should write to me and I shall try to explain the situation.
§ Mr. Squire
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that several local authorities are concerned about the way in which the penalties have been based on the 1978–79 out-turn, which particularly penalises Conservative-controlled authorities that have complied with successive Government guidelines? Although it is too late for the current year, will my right hon. Friend consider whether some change in the system could be made next year to remove many of the problems that have been thrown up?
§ Mr. Pavitt
In settling the rate support grant, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that two factors should be taken into consideration as regards inner city areas such as the one that I represent? I refer first to the impact on the infrastructure. Is he aware that on the Park Royal estate small business after small business is closing down merely because the local authority cannot give the necessary support? Secondly, I refer to the way in which the cut in the rate support grant affects—in this, the International Year of Disabled People—meals on wheels, residential homes for the elderly and home helps. Will not the Minister take a compassionate view?
§ Mr. King
The most compassionate action that can be taken is to ensure that local authorities—like any other public bodies—achieve value for money and make efficient use of the resources available. The best aid that any authority can give to small businesses is to keep its rate demands low so that they do not represent a further financial charge on businesses.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Following upon the question asked by the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), are not the Government's expenditure targets so demented that Cumbria, which has poor services, is liable to be penalised for a 20 per cent. overspend on the Government's targets while Suffolk, which also has poor services and which is Conservative-controlled, is liable to be penalised for a 10 per cent. overspend? Is it not the practice of a police State to impose retrospective penalties for alleged offences that are not offences, but entirely legal decisions? When will the Secretary of State stop acting like the Commissar of Local Government?
§ Mr. King
The target indicated to local authorities, which is clearly set out in the circular, is one of a 5.6 per cent. reduction against 1978–79 expenditure. To the extent that some local authorities do not achieve that others will have to do more if the overall target is to be met. We have made that clear to the House. There is no question of retrospection, as the right hon. Gentleman might care to admit. Nothing can be imposed before Parliament has approved it. In terms of local government, the word 284 "commissar" is relevant only to the activities of some Labour-controlled local authorities which wish to make the possession of a party card the criterion for appointment to senior officer level. That is typical of the activity of a commissar. Nothing that we have done is.
§ Mr. Kaufman
If the right hon. Gentleman is denying that the Government are behaving in such a totalitarian way, will he openly and clearly state which local authorities he will penalise so that they know? Will he also state the penalties that they will be subjected to—which he does not know and will not announce although ratepayers will have to pay for them later in the year? This is the action of a police State and the right hon. Gentleman cannot deny it.
§ Mr. King
It is interesting to note how quickly the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues distance themselves from their late colleague the right hon. Anthony Crosland, who recognised the need for economies in local government in his speech to the effect that "the party's over." In that respect, we shall make clear to local authorities the targets that we seek. We shall put such information before the House. At present, we cannot provide any proposals because we have not had the revised budgets. As the right hon. Gentleman knows full well, this Government, like previous Governments, must observe the overall targets for public expenditure.