Orders of the Day — Rate Support Grant

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31st January 1973.

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Photo of Mr Patrick Duffy Mr Patrick Duffy , Sheffield, Attercliffe 12:00 am, 31st January 1973

Yes, Birmingham, and Newcastle. They face a great financial crisis such as they have never faced before. I did not mention Liverpool because Liverpool took the initiative some weeks ago. It is anxious to meet again in the presence of the Prime Minister. The problems of the great cities do not arise merely from inflation. As from 1st April rates will be demanded on a new basis laid down by the Government in the revaluation of individual properties. Generally speaking, and contrary to belief in some quarters, that will have a marked effect on the country as a whole.

However, in the great cities that I have just mentioned the circumstances are quite different. It is expected, for example, in Liverpool that nearly all domestic ratepayers could pay a substantially increased rate charge next year. Whereas domestic rate bills will mainly go up, industry—and much of my constituency is occupied and dominated by industry—will pay on average 25 per cent. less because industrial rateable values have risen less than average. Thus it seems inevitable that domestic ratepayers will subsidise industry unless the Government takes action.

In the event there is to be in Sheffield a rate freeze. That has been made possible for three reasons: first, because of a pruning of the budget for 1973–74 of approximately £3 million; secondly, because of an increase in the Government rate support grant in the region of £3½ million, and I shall look to the Minister to confirm that; thirdly, because of an unexpected windfall, which the Sheffield City Council did not seek but which my hon. Friends want me to mention, which arises from the Prime Minister's wage freeze. It has meant that £300,000 could be taken out of a fund set aside for anticipated wage increases, thus leaving £1 million to meet the £1 plus 4 per cent. formula. Therefore, the present crisis in Sheffield is being relieved to some extent by wage earners—manual employees. Of course, much greater relief will come from budget cuts.

That raises the obvious question of how cuts in the region of, for example, 5 per cent. in response to the Government's request can be inflicted on the affairs of a city like Sheffield and yet not do grave harm to the quality of life. How can such cuts be undertaken without affecting the city's desire to maintain the momentum of expansion in recent years?

The Minister may say that some expansion will take place. But will he bear in mind my concern that cuts should not be absolute in at least three quarters because, though I expect that the Government will have regard for all the major spending heads to which my hon. Friend referred, there may be some that are so obvious as to be deemed to be not so important. However, they may almost approach urgency.

The first is the need to ensure that the transitional period covering local government reorganisation is not adversely affected by lack of funds. The second may not have received much attention in most parts of the country but it is of growing importance in the great industrial cities, especially in areas like mine. I have already ventilated this matter in the House. I raised it in a Question which I put to the Under-Secretary's Department last year, and received a sympathetic response. I refer to the community industry project which is already being practised in South Yorkshire. I urged the Secretary of State last year that it be given wider application in the Yorkshire and Humberside region, especially in my constituency. For the benefit of hon. Members who may not be familiar with the project's purpose, I wish briefly to explain that it gives employment to jobless youngsters by sending teams to clear up waste areas, to decorate and restore older property, and to help old-age pensioners.

The Minister, who knows South Yorkshire, realises the need for such projects. Moreover, I know that he is acquainted with my constituency and that he is sympathetic to its needs; he is well aware of its acute environmental problems. If there are greater problems in other areas, I should not care to visit those areas. But the Minister does visit them, and he is, therefore, well aware of the prime environmental needs.

I am afraid that any cuts made in the budget of the Sheffield City Council will be visited mainly on the east end. I do not suppose that I shall get any thanks in Sheffield this weekend for having said that. But the east ends of cities usually suffer, and I am concerned that it should not happen in Sheffield.

I am very modest in my request to the Minister. I ask him to bear my concern in mind. I have specified only three matters, but there are other elements in the matter of environmental improvement, notably pollution, of which the Minister is aware as a result of his visit to my area and South Yorkshire generally.

I wish to ask the Minister whether he was in attendance with the Prime Minister when the right hon. Gentleman addressed the Association of Municipal Corporations on 13th December last year. If he was, he may recall that the Prime Minister, in a very fine speech, expressed confidence that in future the community will look to local authorities to provide an even more extensive range of services. Will the Minister bear in mind that it is precisely this kind of expansion which all the great city authorities that are now anxious to meet him and look forward to meeting him on 9th February, especially the Sheffield City Council, fear they will be obliged to slash in the coming year?