HC Deb 25 July 1990 vol 177 cc454-5
9. Mr. Squire

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to finalise the elements which will determine standard spending assessments for 1991–92.

The Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities (Mr. Michael Portillo)

My right hon. Friend will announce his proposals for standard spending assessments in the autumn.

Mr. Squire

Is my hon. Friend aware that as a result of standard spending assessments for the current year, the London borough of Havering has suffered a complete standstill in Government funding and thus finds itself charging adults £60 more each than if the settlement had allowed for even the average increase in outer London? Can my hon. Friend give even a cautious early warning of good news for my constituents in regard to next year's settlement, so that they may hope for a better outcome?

Mr. Portillo

I know of the Havering situation because my hon. Friend has led a number of delegations to Ministers in that regard. Havering's settlement was less than the average above its old grant-related expenditure assessment, but that does not suggest to me that it was unfair. I remind my hon. Friend that total standard spending for next year, as announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State last week, will be up 19 per cent. The likelihood is that SSAs will, on average, increase considerably. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) will have heard my right hon. Friend's remark that we are, of course, willing to consider new evidence in respect of SSAs.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

What are the Minister's preliminary views on fixing the SSA for Wandsworth? Does he think that it is right for Wandsworth to be considering cutting its services to the elderly, the disabled and the blind in advance of fixing its poll tax for 199 I? Is cutting services to those most in need what this flagship of Conservative local government is all about? Is not that approach quite squalid?

Mr. Portillo

Wandsworth's standard spending assessment was set on exactly the same basis as that used for every other authority. The proof of that is that Wandsworth received considerably less under its standard spending assessment than did a number of other London boroughs, such as Lambeth. There is no question of unfairness. I shall consider any new evidence relating to Wandsworth, as I shall in respect of other boroughs, but the spending decisions taken by local authorities are for them. In Wandsworth's case, the council is setting such a low community charge that there is, I am pleased to say, no question of capping.

Mr. Paice

When a local authority has to raise money to pay for its spending, will my hon. Friend consider the implications if that money were raised by a rate system from which two thirds of those apparently liable are either exempt or receive a 100 per cent. rebate? Would not that represent a return to the rotten borough situation which applied to so many Labour local authorities, which bought votes at the expense of the few ratepayers who had to meet the bills?

Mr. Portillo

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The twin evils of the rating system were that only about half the population paid for local authority spending, which was grossly unfair—particularly given how that sample was selected—and that with such a small proportion of the population paying, some local authorities felt that because there were so many freeloaders in the system they could spend very high amounts of money. It is inconceivable that any political party would want to return to the unfairness of a property-based system.

Mr. Corbett

When SSAs are determined, what account is taken of housing need, and in particular of the special needs of councils such as the city of Birmingham, which has put in a £52 million bid to deal with property designated under the Housing Defects Act 1984?

Mr. Portillo

That matter is dealt with under the housing revenue accounts, which are now ring fenced. Within the SSA falls the range of services provided by the local authority, but even under the new, simplified system they are established on a basis which is somewhat complicated. I shall be happy to take the hon. Gentleman through that procedure at any time, if he is interested.