Is my hon. Friend aware that the Conservative-controlled Bradford Metropolitan District Council is making savage cuts in social and education services, to the extent that many schools will not be able to replace teachers, and that both teachers and parents are gravely concerned? Will he give urgent consideration to replacing the block rate support grant system by a percentage grant system in 1976–77 to ensure that Conservative-controlled local authorities carry out their responsibilities properly?
First, I remind my hon. Friend that the Government massively increased the rate support grant to £5,430 million. Secondly, as to the position in Bradford, the figures which were given to local authorities did not envisage cuts in particular services but envisaged the maintenance of the existing level of services. It is for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to answer for the education service, not for me. Thirdly, my hon. Friend referred to percentage grants for next year. We are governed by the 1974 Act under which block grants are given to local authorities, but we are always reviewing the financial position and I have no doubt that it will be reviewed again as a result of the Layfield Report.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the rate support grant was totally inadequate for Cheshire and that, in spite of a no-growth situation and a cut in some services, rates in the county have increased by over 50 per cent. and up to 65 per cent. and 70 per cent.? Will he reintroduce the special domestic rate relief and phase it out over two or three years to ensure that the rate burden for the ratepayers over that period is acceptable?
The hon. Gentleman should remember that Cheshire is my authority as well as his and it could benefit considerably. Cheshire approved the rate support grant and expressed satisfaction on many points that were raised with the Government. The hon. Gentleman referred to the reintroduction of relief. That would be a grossly unfair way of dealing with the problem, just as it was grossly unfair when it was brought in by the Conservative Government.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that it would be irresponsible further to increase central Government expenditure on local government services, particularly as one-third of the increase in the public sector borrowing requirement is attributable to increases in local authority expenditure? Is it not simply another exercise in hypocrisy by Opposition Members to call for further increases in public expenditure while at the same time criticising the level of the public sector borrowing requirement?