Local Government (Scotland)

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

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

We have to consider the changes in the distribution of the rate support grant system and in the methodology of the guidelines in consultation with COSLA as a whole. Of course, different authorities have different views on some of the detailed changes, but I assure my hon. Friend that the distribution of the rate support grant distinctly favours the primarily rural regions as compared with the primarily urban regions. This reflects the fact that, as he rightly says, costs tend to be somewhat higher in rural areas as a result of sparsity.

My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire asked about historical expenditure being reflected in current guidelines. That was certainly the case in the 1982–83 guidelines, but it is much less so in the 1983–84 guidelines, and I accept my hon. Friend's general proposition that one should try to reduce the emphasis on historical patterns of expenditure in moving towards a client group approach.

I think that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) will accept that the expenditure guidelines have been substantially changed in the case of Shetland to reflect the particular problems in relation to oil development. With regard to external plant and machinery the order includes the provision for Orkney. The right hon. Gentleman will accept, however, that in relation to Shetland there is real uncertainty as to the rating resources that will be available. Currently, they are about £10 per head as compared with £2·60 per head for other authorities, but, as Sullom Voe will mean changes in the rating base, a totally unpredictable element will be brought into the calculations. I hope that gives some reassurance. We shall certainly consider whether there are measures which should be taken when that major uncertainty becomes resolved.

A number of hon. Members have referred to education. This year we are facing a 3 per cent. decline in pupil numbers. the teacher-pupil ratio that we are planning for 1983–84 is 21·8 for primary education and 14·6 for secondary education. That is almost exactly the same as the ratios which the Labour Government had in 1978–79, and in previous years the ratios were worse. We are increasing non-teaching costs by6·5 per cent. per pupil. I think that that is a perfectly reasonable total for education.

Several hon. Members have suggested that the settlement is biased against those who are particularly vulnerable in our community. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) and the right hon. Member for Craigton referred especially to housing. I shall respond to those points at the end of the debate on the next order but I appreciate that hon. Members wish to take this opportunity to speak on housing.

The increased provision for social work, which is the key element in local authority expenditure that most affects the needy, is an increase of £21·3 million from £249·6 million to £270·9 million. That will enable local authorities to maintain their services and enable real growth of 2 per cent. in the level of service. That demonstrates quite clearly the Government's commitment at a time of great difficulty to ensure that resources are made available to maintain and improve facilities and services for those in our community who are most in need.

The hon. Member for Maryhill raised two matters of importance which were not reflected in the more general comments of other hon. Members. He said that urban aid expenditure was being taken out of the guidelines, it having been put in as a policy adjustment for 1982–83. Taking it out adversely affects Strathclyde, but there has been no change for Glasgow district. Strathclyde has benefited from the 25 per cent. plus or minus adjustment.

I emphasise that taking urban aid expenditure out of the guidelines is helpful to those authorities which have substantial urban aid programmes.

The hon. Member for Maryhill mentioned GEAR and I shall clarify its position. The Scottish Development Agency has commissioned a series of excellent review reports by consultants about the next five years for GEAR. The GEAR management committee, which includes the Strathclyde region, Glasgow district, the SDA, the health board, the SSHA and the housing corporation, agreed at a recent meeting that in the light of the reports they would draw up a statement of priorities for GEAR to be considered at the next meeting of the management committee.