HC Deb 30 April 1996 vol 276 cc891-2
7. Mr. Milburn

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the local authority grant per head in (a) Darlington and (b) Westminster; and if he will make a statement. [25677]

Mr. Gummer

This year, £997 for Westminster and £621 for Darlington. That is a difference of 75 per cent. In the last year of Labour government, the difference was 84 per cent.

Mr. Milburn

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for those figures. Do not they show that, if Darlington received the same level of Government help as Westminster city council, this year, every family in my constituency, instead of paying a council tax bill, would receive a rebate of £681? Is it not a national disgrace that the local authority grant system has been skewed and rigged to favour one inefficient Tory flagship council?

Mr. Gummer

What it shows is that any skewing that took place took place a darn sight more under Labour than it does under the Conservatives. It also shows that the hon. Gentleman should not work out a supplementary question before he has heard the answer to the main question.

The Labour party is entirely wrong. All the figures show that Westminster did significantly better than many of the councils that have been cited when the Labour party was in power. The Labour party's fox has been shot: if Labour Members understood the system, they would not have started the argument.

Mr. Thomason

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, while a number of authorities may complain that the grant per head is not sufficient and that the methodology is weighted against them, whether one lives in Darlington or in Westminster, until the local government organisations controlled by the opposition parties can suggest alterations to that methodology that are acceptable to local authorities, it will be very difficult for the Government to make any changes?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend points out that all three local authority organisations that are run by Labour do not make the same claims as the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). They understand how the system works and they are part and parcel of it. The hon. Gentleman, who will not listen to experts, does not understand how that system works. Parties such as his charge people £225 a year more than would a Conservative council.

Mr. Dobson

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, under the present grant regime, council tax payers in Westminster contribute just 4 per cent. towards the cost of their council but that, in Darlington, council tax payers contribute more than 30 per cent—and that council tax payers in Bromsgrove, Hertsmere, North Hertfordshire, Milton Keynes and Wyre Forest pay more than 30 per cent? In Basildon—the other Tory flagship—people must contribute 42 per cent. towards the cost of their council. Does not that show that the whole system is a rigged racket that favours Westminster, and that legions of Tory Members of Parliament vote for that racket, following the party line rather than standing up for local people?

Mr. Gummer

Where were the legions of Labour Members of Parliament when Westminster did better under Labour than it does under the Conservatives? The trouble with the hon. Gentleman's argument is that he has not done his homework. He thinks that, if he says the same thing again and again, people will believe him—even though what he says is fundamentally untrue, as anyone who understands the system knows.

The fact is that Westminster did better under Labour—it received a bigger proportion of funds under Labour—and Labour Members of Parliament voted for that year in, year out. The Government apply an objective system to everyone, including Camden, even though Labour runs its councils so badly.

Mr. Yeo

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the grant per head made to Suffolk county council is extremely generous? Does he share my shock at the way in which the Labour and Liberal county councillors are now ruthlessly switching resources away from the villages and the rural areas of Suffolk in order to prop up their friends in the towns? Does not that prove that, when it comes to rigging local authority finances, the Labour and Liberal parties are the experts?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend is far too kind. He fails to mention the fact that, although Suffolk county council received an extra £11.5 million to spend on education, it spent only £8.5 million and put the rest elsewhere. He does not mention either that the council cut off funding for transport for 16 to 18-year-olds, thus underlining Labour's tax on A-levels. The Labour party has taken money from parents by way of travel allowance and it would also abolish child allowance for 16 to 18-year-olds. It is opposed to those who keep their children at school. The Labour party costs more and it spends public money where it wants rather than where the people want it to be spent.

Forward to