HC Deb 20 April 1994 vol 241 cc870-2
3. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will list the top 10 council taxes and the bottom 10 council taxes.

The Minister for Local Government and Planning (Mr. David Curry)

The highest council taxes in descending order have been set by Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Coventry, Langbaurgh, Salford, Bristol, Cleethorpes, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool.

The lowest council taxes in ascending order have been set by Westminster, Wellingborough, Wandsworth, the Isles of Scilly, the City of London, Hambleton, Tewkesbury, Rochester, South Cambridgeshire and Ealing.

Mr. Marshall

My hon. Friend has drawn attention to the success of Ealing in setting a low council tax. Is he aware that in 1986, when I was a member of the Ealing council, it boasted the lowest rates in west London? Is he also aware that 12 months later—following 12 months of Labour control—the rates had gone up by 65 per cent? Does not that show that Conservative councils cost people less and Labour councils cost people more? Is he also aware that Westminster schools are so good that they appeal to one Labour Member, who prefers Westminster schools to Lambeth schools?

Mr. Curry

There is one essential statistic in all of that. It is that Conservative councils cost people less—precisely £131 less across the country.

Mr. Betts

Is not the Minister using fiddled figures in making comparisons? Does he agree that the only true comparison is that made by using the average rate of council tax? That simply takes into account the amount that a council spends and how many people live in that area. The use of bands is distorted because the different spread of property types and values in an area is reflected in those figures. Does the Minister agree that no one would use that comparison objectively? Is not it only those who would try to use the figures for cheap political advantage who would use bands, rather than another comparison?

Mr. Curry

For Opposition Members to talk about distorted figures is pretty rich. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) quoted figures which entirely overlooked the fact that the three precepting authorities were Labour. Nothing is more irrelevant than to use the average tax per household, as it depends on the level of banding in that property and on the amount of grant that is given. The lower the banding, the greater the grant, and Labour councils are delegated even more grant. The trouble is that they do not use it very well, and that Is the heart of the argument.

Mr. Congdon

Does my hon. Friend find it interesting that those authorities in London that receive the highest levels of grant from the Government, such as Lambeth, Haringey, Camden and Islington, also levy the highest council taxes? Is not it even more revealing that those authorities that receive the lowest levels of rate support grant, such as Wandsworth and Westminster, are able to charge the lowest council taxes?

Mr. Curry

That is exactly right. It might be helpful if I spelt out those standard spending assessment levels, so that we can get the facts right. Tower Hamlets receives £1,481 per capita—that is not a Conservative council—Hackney receives £1,305, and Islington £1,185. Westminster is number four, receiving £1,167, and Wandsworth does not appear in the top 10 at all.

Mr. Straw

Could the Minister explain why so much money has been stuffed into Wandsworth in non-meansrelated grant? Wandsworth contains 0.5 per cent. of the country's population, but receives 11 per cent.—£44 million—of all non-means-related grant. Could he also explain why, in Westminster, £96 of every £100 of council spending is contributed by central Government, while the council tax payer spends just £4?

The Minister claims that the average household tax is irrelevant. Can he explain why that measurement was used this time last year in a private Conservative party briefing document, and was also used in a public Department of the Environment official press release the day before the council tax came into force? Is not the truth that it was only when Conservative Ministers discovered that Labour costs less that they dropped that measurement? Is not it also true that, while the average council tax is £493 in Conservative areas, it is £453 in Labour areas? Labour costs £40 less.

Mr. Curry

The hon. Gentleman is an astrologist, not a mathematician. He does not understand the system to begin with. Let me make it clear. Why does Wandsworth receive the grant that it receives? Because its community charge was zero, to the great benefit of its population, the transit relief had to be at a higher level, and because it had the biggest cut in standard spending assessment. That is why it has the damping grant.

The reason for the proportion of grant that Westminster receives is the fact that it sets a budget below its standard spending assessment. If Westminster set a budget as far above its SSA as Liverpool has, it would have to charge 22 per cent. in its council taxes, which is more than Liverpool charges.