West Sussex's entitlement to needs element under the main Rate Support Grant Orders for 1975–76 and 1976–77 showed increases of 43 per cent. and 21 per cent. respectively over the corresponding payments for the preceding year. The initial entitlement for 1977–78 shows a reduction of 3 per cent. from the 1976–77 total.
While it is right and proper that the county should take its fair share of the reduction in public expenditure, may I ask how it can be right to penalise the county still further by changing the distribution formula of the rate support grant in favour of metropolitan areas? Why penalise the Sussex ratepayers?
I ought to point out to the hon. Gentleman that the redistribution is not specifically to metropolitan areas but to areas with special needs in order to spend sums of money on the services they provide. Many of them happen to be metropolitan areas, but others are not. That is the basis upon which the redistribution has gone. Only a moment ago Conservative Members were stressing the need for money to go to the inner city areas, and that point needs to be taken on board.
Is it not the case that since April 1974 the ratepayers of the metropolitan counties have fared far worse than the ratepayers of both West Sussex and Cambridgeshire? Will my hon. Friend be careful before introducing any safety net arrangements, because they could be extremely unfair to a large number of people who have borne the heaviest share of the burden in the last three years?
My hon. Friend mentioned the burden borne by ratepayers in metropolitan areas. I can tell him that the average rate payable in my borough is £140. I shall certainly take the point that my hon. Friend makes.
Is the Minister aware that the rate increase for West Sussex for the current year is only 19 per cent.? That is one of the lowest in the whole country. Will he tell the House how he justifies this system when authorities which exercise restraint with regard to their own expenditure are penalised whereas other authorities which carry out reckless expenditure are encouraged to carry out even more?
That is totally untrue. It is not true to say that authorities which have economised are penalised. That is not the case at all. That is not the basis upon which the needs element is assessed.