HC Deb 15 October 1996 vol 282 cc580-1
11. Mr. John Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to revise standard spending assessment formulae to take greater account of the needs of rural areas. [38360]

Sir Paul Beresford

As my hon. Friend is aware, we have commissioned some detailed research on sparsity which shows that there is no need at present for any radical changes to standard spending assessment formulae.

Mr. Greenway

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but does he agree that it frequently costs more to provide services in rural areas, and that many people living in the countryside do not enjoy the services enjoyed by those who live in towns and cities, such as recreation and leisure facilities and concessionary travel arrangements? When my hon. Friend considers the studies to which he referred, will he please bear in mind those costs on shire district councils and ensure that, if anything, their SSAs go up, not down?

Sir Paul Beresford

My hon. Friend will be interested to know of two other pieces of research. The sparsely populated authorities researched this subject, and their final report concluded that the allowances for sparsity should be at least as great as they are at present. Interestingly, the research for the Association of Metropolitan Authorities argued for lower percentages, and concluded that there was an argument for no sparsity allowances at all.

Mr. William O'Brien

When considering the revision of SSAs in rural areas, will the Minister have regard to the representations made during the past five or six years by authorities in the Webber Craig group for fairness in the allocation of SSAs for education, social services and community care?

Sir Paul Beresford

The hon. Gentleman makes such a large, kindly and clear plea that I shall certainly take notice of it.

Sir Jim Spicer

My hon. Friend has made it clear that some people do not believe that there is any need for a sparsity factor at all. May I say firmly and clearly that in West Dorset we need that sparsity factor and we would take a poor view if it were withdrawn?

Sir Paul Beresford

As I think I said in my original answer, research shows that there is a need for the sparsity factor, but that no great change is required.