HC Deb 19 November 1996 vol 285 cc825-6
8. Mr. Pope

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received on standard spending assessment. [3125]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir Paul Beresford)

We have received a number of representations from local authorities and others on standard spending assessments.

Mr. Pope

Is not it the case that if every council received the same support that Westminster council receives, most of them would be able to pay out rebates on the council tax and, in particular, if Hyndburn council received the same support as Westminster, it would be able to pay a rebate of £612 for every council tax payer in the borough? Does the hon. Gentleman understand the anger that this corrupt system causes?

Sir Paul Beresford

The hon. Gentleman forgets that, if we went down that route, there would be another 14p on income tax. Perhaps he should examine some of his local authority's expenditure. I understand that it moved its school centre to the wrong location and so had to move it again—and then had to build a new building at a cost of £1.7 million.

Sir Irvine Patnick

My hon. Friend will, like me, be an avid reader of the Local Government Chronicle. Does he remember the 5 January 1996 article in which the hon. Member for North-West Durham (Ms Armstrong) was quoted as saying that she does not promise to change the present system? Is not it an indictment that Labour is out of ideas and policy and is prepared to keep the existing system as it is?

Sir Paul Beresford

I thank my hon. Friend for that point. He has taken one of the shots that we would have fired at a later date. He is right, and it is interesting to watch the scrabble of feet among the Opposition.

Ms Armstrong

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Sir I. Patnick) continues to misquote me. I have not given any commitments to additional funding because of the mess that the Government have made, but we will introduce a fair system. How can the Minister justify the current system? Under the Government grant system, the council tax payers of Westminster contribute only 4 per cent. to the cost of their services while, for example, the people of Wirral are expected to pay 24 per cent. Will he promise to change that system?

Sir Paul Beresford

The hon. Lady should recognise that experts consider the SSA to be the fairest system. However, some Opposition Members do not accept the word of experts. The taxpayer may not pay for any change, but the council tax payer will. First, the hon. Lady will massage the SSA, then she will remove capping, stop compulsory competitive tendering, return the business rate to local councils and introduce new regional authorities such as the Greater London council. I know who will pay for that—the council tax payer.

Mr. Mans

My hon. Friend will be aware of the initiative by Lancashire county council in requesting an independent review of the area cost adjustment. Although such a review may mean that the county gets £20 million less next year, and despite the stupidity of the Labour-controlled county council in asking for one in the first place, will my hon. Friend consider delaying its implementation for at least a year?

Sir Paul Beresford

I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern. The review will be implemented only if we are absolutely sure that the new system is robust and stands up to close inspection.