HC Deb 15 July 1981 vol 8 cc1167-8
9. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from those local authorities whose rate support grant he has threatened to cut; and what action he intends to take.

Mr. Younger

Representations by Lothian regional council, Dundee district council and Stirling district council are incorporated in reports under section 5 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1966, as amended by the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1981, that I laid before the House on 10 July. Representations by Dunbarton, East Lothian and Renfrew district councils will be incorporated in a further report that I intend to lay shortly. Representations by Cumnock and Doon Valley district council clarified and revised the budget estimate, and I propose no further action under these provisions in that case.

Mr. Canavan

Is the Secretary of State aware that every apprentice who finished his time last week with the property maintenance department in Stirling district council was paid off, including one young lad who won a national apprenticeship award? Is he further aware that the reason for the council being unable to afford to employ those young people is the cuts which the Tory Government have already imposed on the district council? How many more essential jobs and essential services will be destroyed as a result of the Secretary of State's proposal to go ahead and try to rob the people of Stirling district of another £1 million?

Mr. Younger

If I were a member of Stirling district council, that is not the way that I would have chosen to make reductions. I would have looked for economies in the extra expenditure that that new council has been incurring since it came to office.

Mr. Ancram

Will my right hon. Friend remind the House and the councils against which he is acting that one of the purposes of the 1981 Act was to allow them to reduce rates? Will he confirm that that option is still open to those against whom he has laid orders, and will he urge them to reduce rates for the sake of Scottish ratepayers?

Mr. Younger

That option is open. I hope that all those authorities mentioned in the orders will feel that they have an open invitation to discuss the matters in the best possible way with me or my representatives in the Department. If they have a reduction in grant, it is open to them to return that in the form of a rates reduction to their ratepayers. I should have thought that that would have been the preferable option for them.

Mr. Dewar

Will the Minister explain what happens if negotiations take place? If a concession is offered by the local authorities under threat but a sum less than the total is ultimately agreed, will the shortfall be deducted from the total that the Treasury is looking for, or will that saved sum be clawed back from the other local authorities which are not the subject of specific action under the 1981 Act? We need to know that if we are to have any idea of the prospects for realistic negotiations. Will the Secretary of State please answer?

Mr. Younger

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. Both rebudgeting—reducing budgets on reflection—and reductions negotiated by the authorities will make it easier to avoid taking the full £100 million, which I suggested was the sum that I needed. Reductions by either method should make it easier for everyone.

Mr. Sproat

Is it not scandalous, untrue and grossly unfair to ratepayers in Lothian to say, for example, that no cuts can be made in local authority spending when this week literally hundreds of pounds are being spent flying Socialist councillors back from holiday in Spain and Greece and from cosy trade union jaunts in Czechoslovakia? Will my right hon. Friend look at the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act to see whether it needs changing to prevent those scandalous abuses?

Mr. Younger

I note what my hon. Friend says. If there are such abuses, it is open to ratepayers to raise them with the local authority accounts commission, and I have no doubt that they will do so. On general expenditure, one of the strangest things is that some authorities maintain that it is impossible to make reductions of any kind. I do not know of any business, commercial or local authority organisation that could straightforwardly say that. It simply is not realistic.

Mr. Strang

Since the Under-Secretary of State has made repeated references to the cuts proposed by Conservative councillors in the Lothian region, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how many jobs on the Lothian regional council would be lost through natural wastage this year as a consequence of the package? Where does he believe that it is possible to cut an additional £19 million to make up the £47 million without compulsory redundancies?

Mr. Younger

I have not had the opportunity to study the proposals that were announced this morning by the Conservative members of the Lothian regional council, but I understand that they reckon that they could make savings of about £5 million through natural wastage, which is something that I have been pressing on the authority for two years. The point is that it is much better to make economies without redundancies than to spread scare stories about redundancies that may never occur.