HC Deb 01 April 1981 vol 2 cc285-7
20. Mr. Robert Atkins

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the levels of rates so far announced for the next financial year.

Mr. Heseltine

On the basis of returns from 98 per cent. of authorities, the average level of general rates in 1981–82 will be 18.4 per cent. higher than this year. The domestic rate increases will be 19.8 per cent. I believe that these increases could have been lower had local government as a whole responded in full to the Government's guidelines.

Mr. Atkins

Does my right hon. Friend have information on the breakdown of those rate increases as between Conservative-controlled and Labour-controlled authorities, bearing in mind, for example, the difference in the borough of Preston, where, from being the lowest rated authority in the United Kingdom, it is now predicted that the increase this year will be 163 per cent., with all the consequent effects for industry and the ratepayers?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend knows better than most the devastating effects on local employment prospects of electing a Labour council which reverses the prudent housekeeping of a previous Conservative administration. My hon. Friend asked me whether I could give a more detailed breakdown between Conservative and Labour rating decisions. It so happens that I have that information. In the metropolitan districts the Conservative rate increases are projected at 19.63 per cent. and the Labour increases in the equivalent districts are projected at 28.57 per cent. In the outer London boroughs the Conservative rate increases are projected at 24.53 per cent. and the equivalent Labour rates are 44.59 per cent. For the whole of London, Labour authorities are projecting 45.86 per cent., whereas the Conservative authorities are projecting 27.04 per cent. In all the rating authorities controlled by Conservatives in local government, the projected rate increase is 15.26 per cent. and the equivalent—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I realise that the Minister was taken by surprise by the question, but even so he should not take quite so long.

Mr. Heseltine

Of course I accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but a large number of people are affected. I have only one more figure to give and that is the comparison between all Conservative-controlled local government authorities, where the increase is 15.26 per cent. and all Labour-controlled authorities, where the figure is 26.83 per cent.

Mr. Anderson

Is the Minister aware that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which is Conservative-controlled, has imposed a rate increase of 50 per cent? What has it done wrong?

Mr. Heseltine

It had the misfortune to have ILEA precepting on it.

Mr. Dykes

I thank my right hon. Friend for his previous spontaneous statistical answer. Will he now give extra impetus to the drive to get independent consultants and accountants into those recalcitrant authorities where the rate increases are excessive, including, regrettably, one or two cases where the authorities are Conservative-controlled?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend will be aware that we have accountants investigating parts of the Department of the Environment. With the help of the accountants we have managed to reduce water rate increases of 19.6 per cent. to 13 per cent. next year. There is a substantial case for the use of such services by local authorities.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is it not clear that in the poorer areas the needs are greater and therefore authorities should spend more? Secondly, can the Minister deny that in country areas, although there may be the same proportion of under-fives as in the poorer, deprived areas, the number of children being looked after in those poorer areas is far greater because their mothers have to go out to work? Therefore, the money must be spent.

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman will be fully aware that for the first time we have given all the statistics relating to the distribution of grant so that one can have a fair and objective analysis of the way it is happening. Before the hon. Gentleman talks about greater needs, I wish that he and other Opposition Members would remember that the needs that should be considered at the moment are those of the unemployed and industry, which are being accentuated by these over-rating Labour authorities that are destroying jobs as fast as they can.

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