§ Mr. Edwards
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the impact on council tax increases for 2004–05 of the £406 million announced in the Pre-Budget statement for local authorities in Great Britain. 
§ Mr. Boateng
The additional £406 million announced by the Chancellor includes £340 million for local authorities in England. This means that, including the additional resources announced at the time of the provisional local government finance settlement, the Government is making an additional £760 million in grant available for local authorities in England, over and above what the last spending review originally allocated. Total Government support next year will total £54.5 billion—up from £50.8 billion for 2003/04 on a like for like basis. That represents an increase, in real terms, of 30 per cent. in central government support since 1997 and is the second year in succession that all authorities have received an above inflation increase in government grant.
Taken together with the further £750 million reduction in ring fencing that we announced in November, the additional support being provided underlines the Government's commitment to ensuring that local authorities can provide decent local services without making excessive demands on local taxpayers.
The Government believes that next year local authorities can and should deliver council tax increases in low single figures. However, decisions on council tax levels are a matter for local authorities, in consultation with their local residents, not for the Government.
Decisions on local government funding in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the allocation of the additional resources provided by the Chancellor, are the responsibility of the Scottish Executive, the Welsh Assembly Government, and the Northern Ireland Executive, reflecting their own priorities and circumstances in the normal way.