HC Deb 22 March 1989 vol 149 cc1086-8
16. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the average rate increase for 1989–90; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Gummer

It looks as though domestic rates are likely to rise by an average of 8 or 9 per cent., but the London borough of Ealing has agreed a rise of 32 per cent.

Mr. Greenway

Is it not preposterous that the London borough of Ealing should have proposed a rate rise of 32 per cent. this year, having passed a rise of 65 per cent. no more than two years ago? The current increase is accompanied by £12 million cuts in essential services such as street cleansing, refuse collection and the opening of borough libraries while there have been increases in the gay and lesbian staff unit. Is my right hon. Friend aware that there have been no refuse collections in some parts of my constituency since before Christmas? Is not that a disgraceful indictment of the borough in which the leader of the Labour party lives?

Mr. Gummer

I am sure that my hon. Friend will have noticed that the residents of the borough in which we both live have shown their feelings about the rate rises by an 18 per cent. swing in a by-election to elect a Conservative rather than a Socialist. I have to tell my hon. Friend, though, that the London borough of Ealing is not the worst. Brighton has put up its rates by 57 per cent., although Conservative-controlled Hove next door has cut its rate by 100 per cent. and is not levying a rate at all.

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the Minister tell us what the rate increase for Westminster is? Will he also tell us what he would say about a Labour-controlled local authority that sold off its cemeteries for 15p, that was gambling on the stock market and that was totally corrupt and inefficient? What would St. Gummer say about that?

Mr. Gummer

The rate increase in Westminster is 10 per cent. as against 32 per cent. in Ealing. If I lived in Westminster, the services and the quality of the services that I got would be very much better than those in the London borough of Ealing, where they are very bad indeed.

Mr. Bowis

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in Wandsworth the rates are still the lowest in inner London? Does he agree that much of that is due to the fact that Wandsworth has led the way in competitive tendering? When the services have gone out to the private sector there have been savings of 33 per cent.; even when they have stayed in-house there have been savings of some 25 per cent.

Mr. Gummer

The Audit Commission certainly supports my hon. Friend. I am interested to see that the effect of competitive tendering is spreading everywhere. When I met Councillor Bookbinder in Derbyshire, he admitted that the effect of competitive tendering, which he was against and which he had a whole committee to try to stop, was already bringing down the costs of his services, much to the dislike of NALGO and NUPE.

Mrs. Mahon

Is the Minister aware that if Calderdale, a hung council, had back the rate support grant that has been taken off it since 1979, it would have been able to have a nil rate rise this year?

Mr. Gummer

I am aware that Calderdale has put up its rate in a disgraceful manner, and that it did so with the support of the Liberals who ran their usual operation, which was to pretend that they were against the rate rise but then not to vote on it—and therefore enable the Labour party to get it through. That is the sort of thing the Liberals go in for.

Mr. Holt

Would my right hon. Friend care to put himself in the position of a ratepayer in Langbaurgh? When the rate demand fell on the doormat this week the ratepayers found that their district authority had the highest rate in England and that their town councils were charging them 2p in the pound. Is he aware that in Cleveland county we have the highest rate poundage on top of that, at 299p in the pound—21p in the pound higher than any other county? Does he agree that when we have a change of control in Cleveland after the council elections in May the people in that area will have a much fairer deal?

Mr. Gummer

The only person who is in favour of Cleveland county council is Mr. Bookbinder, the leader of Derbyshire county council. Because Cleveland's rate rises have been so great, it has pushed him off the top of the list, where he has been for some time. Cleveland has replaced Derbyshire as the highest-rated county in England. My hon. Friend will note that the higher the rates, the more likely the council is to be run by Labour, and that on average it costs a person £100 a year more to live under a Labour council than under a Conservative council.