HC Deb 15 March 1995 vol 256 cc895-6
17. Mr. Mullin

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received about capping criteria for the Tyne and Wear fire and civil defence authority; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Curry

I have received a number of representations about the provisional capping criteria as they affect the Tyne and Wear fire and civil defence authority.

Mr. Mullin

Is the Minister aware that Tyne and Wear fire and civil defence authority has lost about £540,000, and Manchester more than £1 million, as a result of bungling by the Department in setting the capping criteria? What steps is the Minister taking to repair the damage and to avoid any repeat of that situation next year?

Mr. Curry

The hon. Gentleman will know that, once a budget has been set, an authority cannot revise it upwards unless some legal point went wrong in the calculation. Having set the budget, authorities are able by definition to discharge their statutory responsibilities within it. I am considering the criteria for next year and will consider the point that he is making about the amount by which the Tyne and Wear authority might have raised its budget, had it set it later.

Mr. O'Hara

Is the Minister aware of the danger that, because of the cap imposed by his Department on its budget, the Tyne and Wear authority might not be able to fulfil its statutory obligations under law—as laid on it by the Home Secretary—as is already the case on Merseyside?

Mr. Curry

If a local authority sets a budget within the cap, we must assume that it can discharge its statutory responsibilities. Local authorities can set a budget above the cap and tell the Government why that is necessary to discharge their responsibilities satisfactorily. A number of authorities have taken that course of action, but it was not one pursued by Tyne and Wear or Merseyside authorities.