HC Deb 23 July 1986 vol 102 cc341-50 3.30 pm
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Edwards)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about my proposals for the 1987–88 rate support grant settlement for Wales.

Local authorities have begun to plan their budgets for next year. To help them, I am today circulating to them my proposals for the key elements of the settlement. Copies of the material sent to Welsh councils have been placed in the Library and the Vote Office.

Before outlining my proposals, I should like to comment briefly on the spending decisions of Welsh local authorities in the present year, particularly those of county councils.

The rate support grant settlement for 1986–87 made provision for overall total expenditure to increase by 4.9 per cent., or slightly more than the then forecast rate of inflation. County councils generally have budgeted to increase their spending in 1986–87 on average by 7.6 per cent. — far in excess of provision and inflation. Their decision resulted in high and damaging rate rises. District councils' spending was broadly in line with the settlement and they were able to limit their rate rises to an average of just over 5 per cent. Nevertheless, ratepayers in the Principality have had to face a combined rate rise averaging nearly 12.5 per cent. in 1986–87.

More than 50 per cent. of the rate income in Wales comes from non-domestic ratepayers. High and unpredictable rate rises are bad for business, hinder expansion and put jobs at risk. Earlier this month the CBI in Wales wrote to council leaders asking them to recognise the needs of business ratepayers and to set low rates in 1987. I endorse and repeat that plea on behalf of all ratepayers.

When the public expenditure White Paper was published in January, no decision had been taken about provision for local authorities' current expenditure for 1987–88, and the White Paper showed the same provision in cash terms for 1987–88 as for 1986–87. I now propose a current expenditure figure of £1,496 million. That is £67.8 million, or 4.75 per cent. more than authorities have budgeted to spend this year. I shall give details of the distribution of this sum between services in the autumn. Once again, I intend to make additional provision for local authority capital spending and this, too, will be detailed in the autumn.

Total relevant expenditure for RSG purposes is expected to be £1,732 million. That is almost £135 million more than total relevant expenditure at the main report stage for 1986–87 and £97 million, or 5.9 per cent., more than the amount that authorities have budgeted to spend in the current year.

Aggregate Exchequer grant in support of relevant expenditure will be £1,157 million, £90 million higher than the level in the main RSG report for 1986–87. The grant percentage is 66.8 per cent. — the same as that in the 1986–87 main report. Comparisons with the grant position for 1986–87, taking into account the effect of authorities' budget decisions, will not be possible until the Supplementary report for that year is published in the autumn.

In my discussions with the local authority associations about the 1987–88 settlement, they have stressed to me the need for as much stability as possible between years in the grant distribution mechanisms. At the same time, the mechanisms must be such as to exert pressure to keep spending in line with our plans. I have, therefore, decided to retain the basic block grant mechanisms used in the present year, with no expenditure targets for individual councils and the slope of the grant-related poundage schedule both above and below the 10 per cent. threshold remaining unchanged, but GRE will be set in line with overall provision.

The effect of this will be that, at the margin of spending, decisions to increase it will result in a cash reduction in grant and decisions to reduce it will produce considerable rating benefits. Furthermore, I have decided that there will be no recycling of any under-claim on grant in Wales in 1987–88. Wales will therefore be covered by the legislation to be introduced in the autumn announced yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. Authorities will be able to plan ahead with certainty knowing that the grant they receive will be directly linked to their own spending decisions. This will assist in forward budgeting.

In his statement to the House yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment announced his intention to take action to prevent local authorities from circumventing the present local authority capital expenditure control system by using devices such as advanced and deferred purchase agreements to incur prescribed expenditure in earlier or later years than would ordinarily be the case. The requirement, which applies equally in Wales, became effective from midnight last night.

The Government's proposals for an improved capital control system were set out in the Green Paper "Paying for Local Government". Responses have been received from the local authority associations and other interested bodies in Wales. With my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, I am urgently considering what steps should be taken. These proposals clearly offer local authorities in Wales a further opportunity to plan for stable expenditure levels while enabling them to pass on real benefits in services and low rate increases to their ratepayers. I sincerely hope that they will do so, and I commend my proposals to the House.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

The right hon. Gentleman presents the settlement with evident relief this year because the expenditure assumption will be nearer to what authorities have said they need to spend than has previously been the case. Whether the statement achieves the objective of low rent increases remains to be seen. I am sceptical.

I note that, in the second table in the material mentioned in the statement, the county of West Glamorgan has a 9 per cent. increase in rate poundage. Among the districts, the increase goes as high as 30 per cent. while, in Meirionnydd, it is down by 10 per cent. The variation is as high as 40 per cent. on the Secretary of State's figures, and there is an increase as high as 30 per cent. I calculate that three quarters of the Welsh districts have increases of more than 4.75 per cent.—the right hon. Gentleman's provision for inflation. Some 15 authorities have a 10 per cent. increase or more.

Will the right hon. Gentleman respond concerning his assumptions on inflation? Does he understand that local government is labour-intensive? He calculates price inflation at 4.75 per cent., but wage inflation is certainly 7.5 per cent. I understand that the police forces have been awarded more than 7 per cent. We know that there is to be a major restructuring of teachers' salaries. Will the Government meet the previous Secretary of State for Education and Science's commitment to fund the teachers' pay award? There is insufficient funding for the new general certificate of secondary education examination. There is insufficient cash for joint financing in the Health Service.

How does the right hon. Gentleman propose to meet the severe pressures on social services caused by major increases in the elderly population in Wales? Does he agree that, if there are more clients, there is a reduction in real terms in provision? He might agree that every community wants better roads and buildings maintenance. Such pressures can unhinge the statement's arithmetic.

There have been cuts in local government finance. Does the right hon. Gentleman know that, between 1978–79 and 1986–87, the cut in rate support grant has been as high as 12.5 per cent.? Put another way, rate support grant paid to Wales is £556 million less in real terms now than in 1978–79.

I deeply regret what the Secretary of State said about recycled grants. That is major money lost to Wales. Does he remember that when he got the reluctant agreement of Welsh local authorities to change from targets to the toughened grant poundage system it was with the promise that any grant withheld as a result of toughened poundage would not be lost to Wales? That was an important consideration. Can he assure me that that cash will not be lost to the people of Wales? If he cannot promise that it is in some respects a betrayal.

I wish to deal with matters relating to changes in the grant mechanism. Does the Secretary of State remember the requests for the schedule to be lowered, for nil safety nets, for nil gain caps and for the level of threshold to reach 20 per cent.? Some 10 districts will have negative marginal rates of grant at 100 per cent. or more as a result of the grant mechanisms which he is using.

On capital, why did the Secretary of State not increase the proportion of housing receipts from 15 per cent. to 33 per cent., as he was requested to do? Even if our proportionate share in Wales was simply upgraded to the English 20 per cent., we would gain £16 million annually, and the right hon. Gentleman will agree that we have major problems in housing.

Does the Secretary of State know that the overall level of spending will provide too little scope for councils to tackle the decaying infrastructure of our communities? May I remind him that Her Majesty's inspectorate depicted disrepair at every level in our education service, especially in our valley communities?

This appears to be a settlement from the cosmetician's angle. It does not repair the severe damage of yesteryear. The ministerial version of the status quo is unacceptable. The settlement has not commanded the support of Welsh local authorities, and contains in its detail a shabby deal on the recycling of grants. It is gravely defective on estimated inflation levels for next year. It does not address itself to the urgent need for comprehensive, major investment in schools, hospitals and houses. There are glaring omissions concerning the funding of teachers' and firemen's pay. It will not save the Conservative party. A Labour Government will restore the freedoms of local government in Wales.

Mr. Edwards

The hon. Gentleman has always considered himself to be rather good at theatre, and that was certainly a theatrical, if unrealistic, performance. He talked about cosmetics. My announcement was that there will be aggregate Exchequer grant amounting to about £1,200 to every household in Wales.

The hon. Gentleman had to admit at the beginning of his remarks that the statement might be greeted with relief, but the extent to which it will be greeted with relief by ratepayers entirely depends on the decisions of local authorities. Apart from the fact that the base of the settlement is extremely generous—I shall return to that — the negative marginal rates mean that if local authorities spend high above the settlement, their ratepayers will have a high bill to pay, while if local authorities spend below the level of the settlement — I believe that that is certainly within the power of many districts—there can be substantial rate reductions.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that we start from a base which itself involves reductions, because the £5 million of recycled grant from last year was given back to local authorities on the understanding, which they fully accepted, that that money would be used first to reduce rate bills. Therefore, there is that reduction to feed into the system even before the effects of this settlement.

The hon. Gentleman drew attention to the fact that there are differences between local authorities. The overall rating effects vary from council to council and from district to district. The higher impact is usually on those authorities that have taken action in the previous year which affects the marginal rate in the current year. Therefore, it is substantially a consequence of past decisions. The overall effect of the settlement for Wales is for nil or very low rate increases. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the rate effects in individual districts, he will see that that is so.

The hon. Gentleman talked about pay. He seemed to assume that pay increases are unrelated to the increase in inflation and that they have no effect on the pattern of spending by local authorities. People must understand that high pay settlements, way above the current rate of inflation, are bound to have consequences on services and employment. That must be borne in mind.

The hon. Gentleman did not seem to recognise that the increase in Wales of 4.75 per cent. of current expenditure is 1 per cent. higher than in England. That is because of the substantially better and lower spending performance of Welsh local authorities in the past. As they have performed better than the English authorities, it would have been wrong for them not to receive some recognition in the statement. I expect to be able to make additional capital allocations later in the year.

The hon. Gentleman asked about recycled grant. Local authorities asked for stability. It was not sensible to continue with a system that meant that individual local authorities' decisions could be severely affected by the spending decisions of other local authorities. If Welsh local authorities collectively spend on the lines of the settlement, no grant will be lost to Wales. It is very much up to the local authorities. The hon. Gentleman commented on grant mechanisms. I have pointed out that the principal request we received was for stability. I have commented on the hon. Gentleman's point about negative marginal rate.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about capital and housing allocations. No decisions on capital spending have been announced. I made it perfectly clear in my statement that we are still reviewing the capital control system. We shall make announcements about capital spending later in the year, after we have considered the points that the hon. Gentleman has made, as well as local government representations.

Sir Raymond Gower (Vale of Glamorgan)

Does my right hon. Friend find it disheartening that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) is apparently reconciled to the inevitability of permanent high inflation certainly in the foreseeable future — far above the ordinary figure of inflation? Is it not a fact that the figures cited by my right hon. Friend deserve a welcome by local authorities, as they should be able to avoid the excessive increases that caused so much distress last year?

Mr. Edwards

I acknowledge that they start from a much sounder, stronger base. They acknowledge that relevant expenditure will be 8.4 per cent. higher than total relevant expenditure at the main report stage in 1986–87, and nearly 6 per cent. higher than budgets.

My hon. Friend referred to the expected inflation rate. Most people, when they talk about 3.75 per cent., talk about the projected growth in costs in the economy as a whole, as spelt out in the Budget statement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The settlement gives Wales a further 1 per cent. on top of that.

If my right hon. Friend were to do a further forecast at this time, the figure would be significantly lower than at the time of the Budget. That factor is working entirely in favour of the local authorities. I remind my hon. Friend that the £5 million recycled grant this year was the base, and that there is an opportunity for local government to have low rate increases, or even rate reductions, in Wales.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

As the rate support grant system is obviously designed to prevent everyone, including possibly the Secretary of State, from knowing exactly what is going on, is the right hon. Gentleman willing to make a wild guess at how much he purports to restore to, say, the council of Blaenau Gwent of the money which his previous rate support grant system took away from it?

Mr. Edwards

This is an extremely generous settlement. We have maintained grants at the same percentage as last year. The decisions on spending will depend on local authorities. Our proposals for reforms of local government finance have been spelt out in detail. We have been consulting in detail on them. We wait with fascination to see when the Labour party gets around to putting forward some reform proposals of its own.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd North-West)

Is not the ungainly floundering of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) a tribute to the skill with which my right hon. Friend has managed to tinker with the manifestly unroadworthy vehicle of local government finance to keep it on the road? Is my right hon. Friend aware how welcome will be his decision not to proceed with the ludicrous and complicated system of recycling, which made it impossible for local authorities to plan ahead with foreknowledge?

Mr. Edwards

I think that many people will welcome the stability it gives and the certainty in planning. Because Clwyd acted responsibly last year, it has come out well in the settlement. The rate increases which can be expected should be low, and reductions are possible.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)

The Secretary of State has announced a 4.75 per cent. increase. Compared with what has happened in the past, that is a vast improvement, but we must consider it in its historical context. Our experience in previous years has not been good. There has been a crisis in the education sector—[HON MEMBERS: "Reading.") — which has suffered tremendously, and in housing. There is a crisis in one of the boroughs which I represent — Brecknock — where 1,000 people are on the housing waiting list. I would welcome the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that more money will be recycled into the housing sector. In addition, there is a crisis in respect of road bridges, with 23 out of action in Powys. I hope—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must ask a question.

Mr. Livsey

Is the Secretary of State aware that 23 bridges in Powys are out of action? Will he assure me that resources will be made available to repair them so that hardship can be alleviated?

Mr. Edwards

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's declaration that this settlement represents a vast improvement, but I wish that the same could be said of the line of his questioning. The hon. Gentleman talks about a crisis in education. I well remember the entirely false allegation which he put around during his by-election campaign that a school was to be closed which no one intended to close. That is the type of myth that the Liberal party likes to put around. As for housing and other capital projects, including bridges, I have said that this is not an announcement on capital expenditure. That will come later.

Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his excellent statement and on the extremely generous settlement. Does he agree that, if local authorities are to take full advantage of it, they must make a concerted effort to keep pay settlements down, which may mean getting tough with the National and Local Government Officers Association? Following on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer), will my right hon. Friend give just one assurance that for Clwyd this year there will be no repeat of what his officials called the "unfortunately" wide difference last year between the provisional and final block grant figures?

Mr. Edwards

It is precisely to avoid such change and uncertainty that we are doing away with recycling and going for stability. There is no doubt that local authorities find it difficult to plan. They now know that they can succeed on the basis that what they will get will be a direct consequence of their decisions. That is a great step forward.

Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the calculation of block grants is based on rateable values obtaining on 30 September? Why is no allowance made if the rateable value is subsequently reduced unless the reduction is greater than the figure which has been determined by the Secretary of State, which is at present 2.5 per cent.? Is the right hon. Genteman aware that, in many cases, substantial reductions in rateable value take place? Is he further aware that, in the case of the borough of Neath — [HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."] Grow up, will you please? I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. I was referring to Conservative Members. Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that the contraction of the BP oil refinery in Neath is an example of that problem? Will he undertake to look urgently at this matter to see what can be done?

Mr. Edwards

Adjustments are made as a result of the closure of industrial premises. However, I shall certainly look specifically at the constituency point raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Ian Grist (Cardiff, Central)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he should be congratulated on his handling of local government finance in that he is able to come before the House with this welcome statement? Would he like to hazard a guess at what South Glamorgan county council is likely to do having followed its irresponsible record rate rise last year?

Mr. Edwards

I fear that one of the consequences of the sort of decisions taken by South Glamorgan may continue to affect those who live in the area. I hope that with this generous and soundly based settlement in front of them, the local authority will recognise that, but by the sort of rate increases it went for last year, it is discouraging the very sort of development that elsewhere it is trying to get going. Therefore, I hope that the message that the confederation of British Industry gave so clearly about the impact of high rating will be heeded on this occasion.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

How will the Secretary of State's statement help the 29 per cent. of men who are unemployed in my constituency, and how will it help Mid Glamorgan with its massive social and economic problems? Will he confirm that the amount announced is a mere fraction of the amount taken away from Welsh local authorities since 1979? Will he tell us how much the Treasury intends to claw back from this amount?

Mr. Edwards

Because the settlement is realistic, it will give Welsh local authorities, including that in the hon. Lady's constituency, every scope for maintaining social provision and services and keeping rate increases down, which will help to attract the industry and jobs she so badly wants. The only circumstance in which there will be claw back, that is to say where there will not be the full benefit because of grant recycling, is if local authorities generally in Wales go above the spending pattern that the settlement indicates. It is certainly within the power of the Welsh local government to ensure that there is no loss through that.

Mr. Keith Best: (Ynys Môn)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that his statement is much more generous than the one he made on 25 July last year, for two reasons? First, his proposals will assist forward budgeting, the absence of which has so badly hampered local authorities in planning in the past? Secondly, will he confirm that total relevant expenditure for RSG purposes is this year 5—9 per cent. more than budgeted for by local authorities, whereas last year it was only 5 per cent. more? Would the pontifications of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) about the effect of wage increases not be much more persuasive if he were to take the same realistic view that the Trades Union Congress now seems to be taking which is that it should intervene in wage negotiations between local authorities and employees to ensure that there are moderate wage settlements because of the effect they have on expenditure?

Mr. Edwards

As my hon. Friend knows, last year we hoped that Welsh local government would maintain the good spending record that it had previously. In those circumstances, there may be some who feel that this settlement is over-generous. The fact is that we have taken account of actual spending patterns in the past and have now made generous provision against the expectation of the increase in costs in the current year. Therefore, there is no doubt that this settlement gives Welsh local government a considerable opportunity to maintain services and lower the rate burden. There is still plenty of scope for Welsh local government to prove its efficiency on the lines that it is beginning to acknowledge and which has been pointed out by the Audit Commission and others.

Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)

Can I put it to the Secretary of State that this is not a good settlement for Wales—just not quite as bad as we have come to expect from him? His claim that local authorities in Wales will be the prime determinant of rate increases comes a bit rich from a member of a Cabinet which is forcing through the House measures which will result in a 20 per cent. increase in the rate bills of the poorest people in our communities. As he was so complimentary about Welsh local authorities, why has he not decided to fight to exempt them from the recycling provision?

Mr. Edwards

The hon. Gentleman can put it to me, but he is wrong. This is a good settlement. It is one thing to argue that everyone living in a local authority area should make some contribution to the rating costs so that they are aware that there are costs to be paid for the services provided, and another to argue for lowering the rate bills and rate costs generally. The people who are paying that percentage will benefit from the lower costs just as much as others.

Mr. Gwilym Jones (Cardiff, North)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. I trust that he agrees that this year's sharp practices by local councils in Wales should never again be repeated. I press him on the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist), which disturbed me. Will he give further consideration to the plight of my constituents, so that they will not again be the worst hit in Wales by South Glamorgan county council, a council that is notorious for its monstrous rate increases? Recent years have included increases of 94, 54 and 24 per cent., the latter being for this year. That burden seems to get better only because of the Government's success in conquering inflation.

Mr. Edwards

I agree with my hon. Friend that the record of that authority in recent years has been disgraceful. If the local authorities in my hon. Friend's area spend in line with the settlement, there is no reason why rate increases should be more than 1 or 2 per cent.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Does the Secretary of State accept that maintaining the status quo is not good enough when the status quo involved potholes in the roads, social services that cannot be delivered to those who need them, and a substantial bill for the education settlement coming through soon? Will he confirm that at 4.75 per cent., 1 per cent. above the GDP deflator, the figure is still 0.5 per cent. short of what is needed for the education settlement? That means that Wales will be £7 to £8 million short of what is needed to pay the teachers. That being so, shall we not either lose teachers or cut other services to finance the settlement?

Mr. Edwards

No, I think that this is untrue. The hon. Gentleman failed to listen to the answer that I gave earlier, when I pointed out that not only is the settlement above the GDP deflator, but the GDP deflator was a forecast made a considerable time ago, since when inflation has continued to fall. What is more, there has been a substantial increase in the amount allocated as the base from which local authorities start this year. Against that background, I cannot see that local authorities have the problems that he describes.

Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)

Will the Secretary of State give the House three figures, one for Wales, one for the borough of Lliw Valley and one for Swansea city council? Will he precede the three figures by either a plus or a minus? What have been the changes in real terms in the cash awarded in the rate support settlement for 1986–87 compared to 1978–79?

Mr. Edwards

If the hon. Gentleman tables that question, I shall answer it.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

The Secretary of State can rarely answer a reasonable question. It is like his statements. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) that the rate support grant is confusing enough, but having a Secretary of State for Wales such as that which we have makes the matter even more confusing. When the right hon. Gentleman talks about recycling, I should like to suggest that he gets on his bike.

The right hon. Gentleman was asked a question by the Ogwr borough council, which appealed with him to meet it in the House and discuss with it the way that his Government and his actions have ensured that the council's development status has been down-graded in two places. I appeal to him to reconsider the matter, so that it can benefit, if there is any benefit to come out of the statement, in a proper and reasonable way.

Mr. Edwards

I know that the hon. Gentleman finds these matters difficult to understand, but his question has not the smallest connection with the statement that I have just made.

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

Is the Secretary of State aware that when he said that Clwyd county council behaved last year, as he put it, responsibly, it has meant for those of us who live in Clwyd worse roads, growing dereliction on the roadways, less education provision and worse social services, and a general contribution to the shabbiness and lower quality of life with which we have had to put up from the social services? As the Secretary of State knows, rate support grants taken from Wales by this Government have amounted to £500 million since 1978–79. How much more rate support grant will be lost as a result of this statement?

Mr. Edwards

Again, the hon. Gentleman has clearly not been listening, because I have already told the House several times that the rate support grant percentage is unchanged this year.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, North)

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that the generosity that he is pretending to display is an exercise in duplicity, for over the years local government has had to put up with rate capping, the freezing of receipts from the sale of council houses, clawback, and restrictions of one kind or another. The latest example is the cheating over the recycling of grants.

When will the Secretary of State recognise the reality that Wales is about the most deprived area in western Europe? Heavy unemployment places a far greater burden on our local authorities and the services that they administer. Our education system is creaking at the seams, and the Secretary of State has not made clear how the teachers' award will be funded bearing in mind the inflation tendency.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also recognise that we have a massive housing problem, with thousands of properties lacking basic amenities, and that vast expenditure is required on our infrastructure to make the place a little more inviting for prospective new enterprises? Is it not sheer hypocrisy for the Secretary of State to urge local authorities to ease the burden on ratepayers when the right hon. Gentleman is the culprit who has done so much damage to local government and those whom it serves? Does he appreciate that we recognise, in the run-up to a general election, that he is trying to create a mirage of optimism? He will not be believed because the neglect and decay have gone on for too long.

Mr. Edwards

We all know that Opposition Members love to create an image of Wales in gloom, decay and depression, whatever the damage that it does to Wales, and however much it discourages job creation. The hon. Gentleman has led the field in that disreputable and damaging task.

The hon. Gentleman started by accusing me of rate-capping, when there has never been rate-capping in Wales. He accused me of cheating over recycling, but there has never been cheating over recycling. Some may think that a system under which some local authorities were penalised because of the decisions of other local authorities represented a form of cheating that we should do well to get rid of. The stability and security that this gives local authorities will be welcomed.

In his account of the relevant position between Wales and England, the hon. Gentleman failed to mention that there is a considerably higher grant percentage for Welsh local authorities than in England, that we are allocating more capital, and have done so because of the relatively good spending record of most Welsh authorities, and could have done even better if they had maintained that good record last year. Finally, I repeat that the onus for high rate bills this year will not be on the Government. If they rise, that will be solely the responsibility of local government.