Like the hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Coat bridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) I have been approached rather at the last minute—indeed, today—by my local authority about the points that it made and to which the Secretary of State alluded briefly regarding the distribution formula—namely, the problem arising from the loan charges element for 1980–81 being based on returns made by all authorities in June-July 1979 as to the outturn housing revenue account for the year to 31 March 1979.
The difficulty faced by Caithness appears to have been recognised finally only at the last minute. I do not blame my local authority for not approaching me earlier, because it had reason to hope that the Secretary of State would take a more flexible approach to its difficulties than he appears to be willing to do.
Owing to the delays that the authority has experienced in finalising the abstract of accounts for the Caithness county council—the predecessor authority—the abstract for the base year 1978–79 is not complete. As a result, the figures used to complete the support grant form for 1980–81 were the best estimates available.
I understand that the updated estimate, of which the Scottish Development Department was made aware in late October, shows that there has been a gross understatement of the loan charges. The Minister has been made aware of these problems not only by the Caithness district council but by COSLA which has espoused the cause of the few local authorities affected. I think that we should have had a more reasonable response than we had from the Minister. Indeed, the understatement of the aggregate grant by Caithness is considerable. It will certainly amount to the allocation to Caithness being understated by about £185,000 as a result of this inability to give a final figure.
The problem does not bear postponement in being dealt with in the way suggested by the Minister. It will have a substantial effect on the rate poundage, which I gather is put at about 2p per pound in the next financial year. I hope that the Minister will undertake to look at this matter and to act with more expedition than he appeared to be willing to exercise in his earlier remarks. He has not given any reasons for not responding to the appeal of the local authorities affected and to the arguments adduced by the hon. Member for Fife, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie. I hope that in the light of these representations he will think again.