HC Deb 15 February 1995 vol 254 cc984-5
5. Mr. Amess

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received on Essex county council's revenue support grant settlement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Robert B. Jones)

We received no representations from Essex county council during the period of consultation on the proposed revenue support grant settlement. The council did query data on pupil numbers with the Department for Education during the consultation period, and wrote to my officials on 31 January on the same matter.

Mr. Amess

Does my hon. Friend share my disgust at the fact that, despite substantial reserves and one of the best-ever settlements last year, socialist-controlled Essex county council's social services department ran out of money in October, blocking 79 beds at Basildon hospital, increasing waiting times at the accident and emergency unit and lengthening hospital waiting lists? Does he agree that, in the light of such incompetence, those socialist county councillors should resign or we should impeach them?

Mr. Jones

My hon. Friend rightly stresses the difference between socialist-controlled councils and others, but there is a wide variation in the effectiveness and efficiency even of councils not controlled by the Conservative party. For instance, Hertfordshire county council—whose area I represent—did not run out of money for that purpose, because it managed its money properly.

Mr. Dobson

Does the Minister accept that, as a result of a local government grant settlement that does not meet the cost of pay increases, a number of services in Essex will he reduced—including police and schools provision—and the council tax will generally rise? Does that not confirm that in the coming year, in terms of council tax, Essex man and Essex woman will be paying more and getting less?

Mr. Jones

What happens in any local authority depends very much on the effectiveness and efficiency of that authority. What my right hon. and hon. Friends have been asking local authorities to do is precisely what businesses have to do year in, year out: become more efficient.

Dr. Spink

Is my hon. Friend aware that, as a result of its profligate and wasteful policies, Liberal and Labour-controlled Essex county council has lost £8.5 million? The cuts that it has made to recover from those losses have affected the most vulnerable members of society—the old, the disabled and the young. Will my hon. Friend call on the council to use some of its £28 million reserves to restore the amount lost through those cruel cuts?

Mr. Jones

The management of the county council's finances is a matter for it, but I certainly urge all local authorities to examine ways in which they can become more efficient and to consider how they can use their reserves most profitably.