Local Government (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:02 pm on 17th January 1983.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , Renfrewshire East 10:02 pm, 17th January 1983

The Labour Government doubled unemployment. Labour Members have tried to make out that the economies sought by the Government this year are somehow unreasonable or unacceptable, but let us consider the settlement before the House. The total allowed by the Secretary of State for relevant current expenditure is the key figure. If, as we hope, total expenditure is within that figure, there will be no need in Scotland this year, as there was last year and in certain years under the right hon. Gentleman's Government, for a general abatement. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, local authority expenditure has risen steadily in real terms since 1977–78, which was not a year in which there were complaints about the level of services. Against that background, the economies of 3 to 4 per cent. for which my right hon. Friend asks—we do not dispute the right hon. Gentleman's figure—are perfectly reasonable and acceptable, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) pointed out. My hon. Friend was similarly correct in pointing out the effects of the recession elsewhere in Scotland.

The Opposition have also not answered my right hon. Friend's points about the increase in manpower. Local authority manpower in Scotland is now 2·6 per cent. above the lowest level under the Labour Government, whereas in England it is 5·4 per cent. less than when the Government came to office and 3 per cent. lower than the lowest figure under the Labour Government. That shows that economies can be made. They have been made in England and in some Scottish local authorities but not—this is the problem—in all of them.

Several hon. Members referred to the unallocated portion. Of course we should have preferred not to take that line, but it was forced on us by the difficulty of bringing local authority expenditure into line with the Government's programme.

I was also asked some detailed questions about the guidelines. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and the right hon. Member for Craigton asked about the policy adjustment this year in relation to the expenditure need figures. In the interests of stability, the cash increase over 1982–83 for each authority, excluding the urban programme, is to be held within a range of plus or minus 25 per cent. of the average cash increase in the level of relevant expenditure. With regard to the exclusion of the urban programme, I shall return to the point raised by the hon. Member for Maryhill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries referred to sparsity. Rate support grant expenditure per head is higher for the rural authorities in Scotland than for the urban authorities, with the exception of Strathclyde which has particular problems, thus reflecting the importance of sparsity. I shall write to my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire on the detailed points that he raised with me.