HC Deb 18 March 1957 vol 567 cc23-5W
Mr. Mitchison

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government (1) the current figures of local authorities' financial resources and explain what changes will be made in these by the Government's new proposals; and if he will lay a White Paper;

(2) the total amount of central Government grants to local authorities for the current or last convenient year; how much of this amount was in respect of specific grants which are to be excluded from the proposed general grant; and how much in respect of each such specific grant;

(3) what will be the total increase or decrease of central Government grants to local authorities consequent on the Government's new proposals.

(4) what will be the net increase in the financial resources of local authorities attributable to his proposed increase of the rate contribution of industry and freight transport and what would be the net increase if that rate contribution were raised from 25 per cent. to 100 per cent.;

(5) what are the objective factors, by reference to which he proposes to distribute the general grant among local authorities in England and Wales; what weight will be given to each such objective factor; and how the distribution will be allocated;

(6) if he will so tabulate the amounts of present and proposed grants to local authorities as to identify the services and amounts which at present are not included in any general grant-in-aid and form five-sixths of total Exchequer grants and those which he does not propose to include in his general grant and which will form one-third of total Exchequer grants;

(7) what changes he proposes to make in the system of pool payments to local authorities by the nationalised industries; and what financial effect each of those changes will have on the liability of those industries and on the resources of local authorities.

Mr. H. Brooke

The statement which I made to the House on 12th February summarised conclusions which the Government have now to discuss in detail with the local authorities preparatory to legislation. Discussions have begun; but until they are completed there are many matters which cannot be finally resolved. One is the formula for distribution of the general grant, on which so much will depend for the individual authority.

I do not think that it would be appropriate or useful—or indeed fair to the local authorities—to lay a White Paper at this stage. It would inevitably be incomplete. But my present intention is to do so when the discussions with the authorities have been concluded. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I aim to do this before the summer recess.

I may, however, say that in my statement of 12th February I had in mind the following key figures for England and Wales as broad estimates of the current position:

Rates 490 millions
Grants in aid of specific services 508 millions
Exchequer Equalisation Grants 73 millions
Rents, fees and other charges 436 millions

The increase in rates consequent on the re-rating of industry and freight-transport to 50 per cent. will depend on the rate poundage at the time but the addition should he something upward of £25 millions.

On grants, as I explained in my statement of 12th February, with a few exceptions where technical considerations make it not possible or desirable, specific grants will be replaced by a general grant. The main exceptions which I had in mind are the housing subsidies, and the grants for highways and police and, in the education service, advanced technology and school meals and milk. The effect, at current levels, would be that approximately £280 millions out of the £508 millions at present tied to specific services would be distributed by way of general grant. Adding to this the equalisation grants, there would be £353 millions of general grants-in-aid, leaving some £228 millions tied to specific services.

On the question what grants are not at present included in any general grant-in-aid I would refer the hon. and learned Member to the Local Government Financial Statistics for England and Wales for 1954–55, that being the last year for which these statistics have so far been published.