HC Deb 19 November 1996 vol 285 cc828-9
11. Mrs. Helen Jackson

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what local authority delegations he has received concerning the 1997–98 revenue support grant settlement. [3128]

Sir Paul Beresford

I meet representatives of local authorities throughout the year to discuss a range of issues affecting local government. It is, of course, open to all authorities to request a meeting with Ministers during the formal consultation period that follows the provisional settlement announcement later this month.

Mrs. Jackson

Has the Minister read his Government's evidence to a House of Lords Select Committee in which they admit that it is policy that council tax levels should rise? Will he confirm today that the Government's policy is to hike up council tax, possibly by as much as 16 per cent. over the next two years? Does he recognise that that is the 23rd Tory tax rise since 1992 and that he cannot continue to blame Labour local councils for that?

Sir Paul Beresford

I am always sorry for the hon. Lady when it comes to defending her local council in Sheffield, which seems to get itself in straight difficulty. There is a thing called Supertram, which looks more like a black hole. The council's property services department is underselling properties by a huge degree, which is to the disadvantage of the local authority. In addition to that, the department seems to have lost 200 properties. Nevertheless, the authority has rewarded the managers of that service by giving them a £4,000 a year pay rise.

Sir Peter Fry

Does my hon. Friend remember that, among the delegations that came to his Department this year, was one that represented a number of counties and all the major political parties and that was concerned about the unfairnesses of the area cost adjustment? Does he accept that those unfairnesses exist; that they were highlighted in the report by Professor Elliott; and that, if nothing is done to implement the recommendations in that report, those profound injustices will continue to affect Northamptonshire and many other counties?

Sir Paul Beresford

I do recall my hon. Friend's visit with his delegation. As he will be aware, the report contained as many findings for as against, so before we implement the report's recommendations, we must be absolutely sure that they are well founded.

Mr. Dobson

Will the Minister confirm that, as part of the Budget to be announced next week, the Government plan to increase council tax way above the rate of inflation as part of their long-term plan to raise council tax by £3.5 billion—equivalent to adding 2p to the standard rate of income tax?

Sir Paul Beresford

The hon. Gentleman ought to know better. He has been here far longer than I have, and even I realise that that is a silly question, which I cannot answer; that will be left for the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the right time.

Mr. Bellingham

Has the Minister heard of an organisation called SPLAT, which stands for Sparsely Populated Local Authorities Team—[interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman's microphone is not on and no one can hear him.

Mr. Bellingham

I think that the Minister heard; I mentioned SPLAT, which stands for Sparsely Populated Local Authorities Team, headed by King's Lynn and West Norfolk borough council and its superb treasurer, David Tate. Can my hon. Friend confirm that representatives have visited his colleague, the Minister of State, and can he confirm that their views and representations will be listened to?

Sir Paul Beresford

I can confirm the point, and yes they are being taken on board and listened to carefully.