HC Deb 23 November 1983 vol 49 cc317-8
17. Mr. Robert Atkins

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many local authorities within the county of Lancashire will fall into penalty as a result of policies in 1982–83.

Mr. Waldegrave

Nine out of the 14 district authorities within the county of Lancashire overspent their effective targets in 1982–83 and therefore incurred grant holdback. Eight are budgeting to spend above their expenditure targets for 1983–84 and are, therefore, subject to grant holdback this year.

Mr. Atkins

Does my hon. Friend not think it extraordinary that the borough of South Ribble, which is the lowest-rated authority in the county of Lancashire, and which has done everything required of it by his Department, should now be penalised? It feels extremely aggrieved at that prospect. Would my hon. Friend be prepared to accept, or to advise his right hon. Friend to accept, a delegation from that council so that it can put its point of view to him?

Mr. Waldegrave

South Ribble's provisional target for 1984–85 is almost 15 per cent. higher than its 1982–83 budget. However one measures inflation, that is a real increase. I repeat that the need for savings from low-spending authorities derives, in part, from the inability so far to control the high spenders. That is why we need the powers that my right hon. Friend mentioned earlier. I think I have explained to my hon. Friend that we are now too near the rate support grant settlement to be expected to receive further delegations.

Mr. Haynes

Surely the Minister realises that authorities are overspending because of Government policy? When will the Government learn the lesson? It is all very well for the Secretary of State to laugh, but it is not a joke. It is a serious matter. When will the Government and the Department realise that local authorities are required to provide services that were promised at the election, but that the Government's policies are preventing them from doing so?

Mr. Waldegrave

The Government were re-elected with a greatly increased majority on a ticket which said that they would control public expenditure. A number of local authorities have followed a policy that has flown in the face of that re-endorsed mandate.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Will my hon. Friend ensure that in the efforts—which all Conservative Members support—to control grossly spendthrift councils he does not accidentally penalise those councils that have been prudent over the years?

Mr. Waldegrave

As I have said before, part of the reason why it is still necessary to ask so much from the lower spenders is that we still face the problem of the high spenders breaking through. That is why my right hon. Friend needs the powers that he will seek in the House.

Mr. Straw

Do not the examples of the South Ribble council and all the other Lancashire councils show just how capricious and arbitrary is the Government's system of rate limitation? Does it not show that the real reason why rates have risen in Lancashire and elsewhere is not alleged overspending but the £2,000 million that the Government have imposed on the ratepayers of the country—expenditure which was paid for by central taxation? Will the Minister admit that, despite that additional burden, rates have risen far less than taxes, local government expenditure has risen less rapidly than central Government expenditure, and that even alleged high-spending authorities have seen their expenditure rise more slowly—for example the GLC's has risen by only 88 per cent.—than that of central Government, which has risen by 101 per cent.? Will the Minister admit that central Government are the overspenders?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman has failed to understand the point. Central Government cut the percentage of aggregate grant because they wanted local authorities to cut spending. Rates have increased because local authorities have not responded and cut expenditure, which is why my right hon. Friend has to seek further powers.