HC Deb 21 December 1983 vol 51 cc412-3
2. Mr. Cartwright

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has revised his estimates of overspending by the metropolitan county councils which were published in the White Paper, "Streamlining the Cities".

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. William Waldegrave)


Mr. Cartwright

I thank the Minister for that typically helpful reply. Has he found time this morning to read the first report of the Coopers and Lybrand independent study. which condemns the White Paper's estimates of overspending as both overstated and misleading? In the light of that damning indictment by this independent, eminent and respected firm of City management consultants, will the Government now drop their doctrinaire objection to facing the facts in relation to the metropolitan counties? Will they now co-operate with the second phase of the Coopers and Lybrand study to examine the Government's proposals for a plethora of elected boards, to see whether this really will save money?

Mr. Waldegrave

I am afraid that the Coopers and Lybrand report is a slow ball. It is slightly comic that, after the expenditure of considerable and legitimate remuneration at the taxpayers' expense, and although the White Paper estimates the increase in the volume of overspending to be 11.5 per cent., Coopers and Lybrand, presumably after giving its clients all the benefits of the doubt, states that it is 9.5 per cent. That is almost like the mountain shaking and giving birth to a mouse.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Does my hon. Friend accept that millions of people voted for the Government so that rate-capping could be introduced and that they would regard it as a betrayal if we or another place tried to repudiate that?

Mr. Waldegrave

My hon. Friend need have no fears that the central manifesto commitment represented by my right hon. Friend's Bill will not be carried into law.

Dr. Cunningham

If the Government, the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary do not accept the Coopers and Lybrand report, how do they refute its charge that the Government's claims about savings as a result of abolition of the metropolitan counties are misleading? Having made these claims, why does the Secretary of State now consistently refuse to inform the House and the country about his savings estimates?

Mr. Waldegrave

With respect, that part of the Coopers and Lybrand report has not yet been written. The part that has so far been published deals with past spending patterns, not with future savings. Those will be published in January. My right hon. Friend is not inclined to join in this sterile exercise with Coopers and Lybrand, because the assumptions behind the savings have not yet been finalised. I am reminded of the old computer addage that if garbage is put in, garbage comes out.

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