HC Deb 19 February 1986 vol 92 cc303-4
5. Mr. Stan Thorne

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations about the 1986–87 grant settlement he has received from non-metropolitan county councils since the rate support grant settlement for 1986–87 was approved in January.

Mr. Waldegrave

I met a deputation from Cumbria county council on 29 January and my hon. Friend met a deputation from Derbyshire county council on 6 February. In addition, we have received written representations from a number of shire counties since the settlement was approved.

Mr. Thorne

In a speech in December 1985 the Secretary of State referred to an expectation of 9.5 per cent. rate increases. From the first batch of Tory councils to announce increases, Buckinghamshire proposes 30 per cent. and Lincolnshire and Norfolk 22 per cent. Does that mean that they are chronic overspenders?

Mr. Waldegrave

Proposed rate increases in several shire counties are higher than we would have hoped—none is higher than in my own county of Avon, which is Labour-controlled —because there have been real increases in expenditure, which were no part of the Government's plans.

Mr. Higgins

Is my hon. Friend aware that many of those making representations welcome the decision to allocate more funds to the inner cities? Why was no attempt made to find offset savings from other Departments, rather than from the shire counties?

Mr. Waldegrave

The decisions that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had to take about the allocation of ratepayers' and taxpayers' money were difficult, as they always are. It was thought right to respond to the concerns expressed in the House.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Is the Minister aware that some Conservative county councils will follow Conservative-controlled Sefton metropolitan district council, which intends to do a "Liverpool"? They are contemplating an illegal budget—underbudgeting in Sefton by £2 million —on the assumption that they might receive extra rate support grant during the financial year from money clawed back from overspending councils, which the Secretary of State can redistribute. Will he condemn that act of illegality by Conservative councils?

Mr. Waldegrave

If the hon. Gentleman finds it difficult to distinguish between the behaviour of Sefton and Liverpool councils, there is nothing that I can do to unconfuse him. It is perfectly right for a council to make a reasonable review of its reserves and revenues and to budget legally within them.

Sir Anthony Grant

Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that one result of the many representations that he has received about the current rate support grant will be the long-awaited and much-promised fairer deal next year for responsible shire counties?

Mr. Waldegrave

The outcome is always dependent upon the total provision and the total rate support grant percentage. Although I know that many of my hon. Friends find it difficult to accept, within those constraints several steps were taken to help the lower spending authorities.

Mr. Straw

As almost every one of the 29 shire authorities which have raised their rates by almost 20 per cent. is still proposing to spend below the standard of need set by the Government, why does the Minister not have the guts to admit that rates are rocketing in Conservative and Labour areas because of cuts in the rate support grant and not because of increases in expenditure? In the light of those figures, how can the Minister justify the wild claim made by the Secretary of State on 18 December that rate increases would be only 7.5 to 8 per cent., when increases of more than 20 per cent. were predicted, and were predictable?

Mr. Waldegrave

The, hon. Gentleman will find it difficult to make that allegation stick on my right hon. Friend, who is a most sober citizen. The fact—I have the figures in front of me—is that in many authorities where the rate increases are more than we would have wished, including Gloucestershire and Essex, there were real increases in spending, which were never part of the Government's plans.

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