HC Deb 18 January 1995 vol 252 cc698-9
8. Mr. John Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the average council tax for a band D house in Westminster and for a band D house in St. Helens.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

For St. Helens it is £652 and for Westminster £245. If St. Helens were to spend at the same rate as Westminster relative to standard spending assessment, the band D council tax in St. Helens would be £224—even lower than in Westminster.

Mr. Evans

Will the Minister acknowledge that St. Helens and Westminster city councils are roughly the same size and cover roughly the same population? Will he acknowledge also that the reason for the appalling figures that he has announced is that for every £1 that Westminster city councils spends it receives 97p in Government rate support grant while St. Helens city council receives only 77p? Would the hon. Gentleman be surprised to hear from me that the people of St. Helens increasingly regard an RSG system which creates enormous disparities between broadly similar authorities as utterly corrupt?

Mr. Jones

To describe St. Helens and Westminster as broadly similar authorities is ridiculous, just as it would be ridiculous to compare St. Helens with, for example, the London borough of Hackney, which also receives a high standard spending assessment. As the hon. Gentleman knows, SSA reflects a range of factors which are different in different authorities. For example, millions of visitors and commuters come into Westminster, which is not the case in St. Helens. An apt comparison is what would happen if St. Helens spent as far below its SSA as Westminster did, and I commend that to the hon. Gentleman's local authority.

Mr. Congdon

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if other inner-London boroughs that get similar resources from the Government to those of Westminster were as efficient as Westminster, there would be no reason why they should not have a similarly low council tax? Is not Westminster's low council tax a tribute to the fact that it has been at the forefront of contracting out and, wherever it can, it seeks out and roots out waste?

Mr. Jones

What my hon. Friend says is absolutely correct. If other local authorities in inner London were as persistent in examining the cost-effectiveness of their administration, they would end up with the dividends for their council tax payers.

Mr. Dobson

Do not the figures quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) show that the Government are pouring taxpayers' money into Westminster to keep down the council tax there, at the expense of money being available for other places, such as St. Helens? Why should other parts of Britain, including the parts represented by Conservative Members, have to suffer because the Government have to give extra money to Westminster to make up for the £3 million that they squandered on the cemeteries, the £21 million on the homes for votes scandal and the £13 million that Westminster Tories forgot to collect in service and repair charges from the people who bought their council houses?

Mr. Jones

The hon. Gentleman is a Member for the London borough of Camden, the SSA for which is almost exactly the same per capita as for the London borough of Westminster. I assume, therefore, that, as the figures came out of the same system, he wants the grant to the London borough of Camden to be cut dramatically. I think that he will have awful difficulty with the councillors on his selection board when he goes up for reselection.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Does my hon. Friend agree that Westminster provides services that are much appreciated by the citizens of Westminster, but in Ealing, a comparable area, the Labour council is drastically reducing services as well as putting up the council tax by 10 per cent? Is that not socialism as we see it. in this country?

Mr. Jones

If one needs to judge socialism, the best place in which to look is where it is practiced—Labour-controlled authorities. What my hon. Friend says about the London borough of Ealing will, I am sure, get home as a very important message to the electors of Ealing, North for the next general election.