HC Deb 04 November 1998 vol 318 cc859-60
4. Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

If he will make a statement about the funding of social services by local authorities in Wales. [56579]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Jon Owen Jones)

In Wales, local authorities do not have budgets that are specifically ring-fenced for particular services and they can take their own decisions on where priorities lie at a local level and what funding can be afforded for social services within the overall sums available.

The Welsh Office has recently published a consultation paper, "Comprehensive Spending Review: Modern Public Services for Wales—Spending Plans 1999–2002", and is seeking views on spending allocations for next year and the baselines for the following two years. Spending decisions will be announced later this year, but, in the meantime, participation in the consultation is very much welcomed.

Mr. Lansley

I am grateful for that reply, but is the Minister aware that Powys county council has budgeted expenditure in this financial year of more than 5 per cent. less in cash terms for personal social services than in the year just past, and that, partly as a consequence, it has halved the budget from which the child protection register is to be funded? What action does the Minister propose to take, in discussion with Powys county council, to ensure that that authority has the resources necessary to ensure protection of children in its area?

Mr. Jones

Last year, local authorities in Wales participated in a process, in consultation with the Welsh Local Government Association, to agree on a formula to allocate resources between them. That formula was agreed by all the local authorities, including Powys, and it is the responsibility of local authorities in Wales to decide how they allocate their resources between their various departments.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

My hon. Friend will be fully aware of the tragic consequences of the recent floods, which have left temporarily homeless almost 200 in the Merthyr and Rhymney valleys. Will he, therefore, consider not only what assistance and support the Government might be able to give to those families, but the possibility of appointing an inspector to inquire into why flood defences failed so badly on this occasion?

Mr. Jones

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point on behalf of his constituents, more of whom suffered in the floods than in any other constituency in Wales. Rainfall in Wales last week was greater than at any other time in the past 20 years. Fortunately, flooding was not as great a problem as it was almost 20 years ago, in 1979, because of the investment that has been made in flood protection. Nevertheless, I know that people in Merthyr suffered grievously. I shall note very carefully the points that my hon. Friend has made and bring them to the attention of my officials.