Local Government (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:02 pm on 17th January 1983.

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Photo of Mr Bruce Millan Mr Bruce Millan , Glasgow Craigton 8:02 pm, 17th January 1983

The Secretary of State is not answering the question. The guidelines provide for a reduction in education spending of £98 million, of which £55 million is for teachers. That will mean sacking 6,000 teachers. Does the Secretary of State dispute that? He cannot dispute it because it is the reality, but fortunately for the people and schoolchildren of Scotland the local authorities will not be mad enough to do what the Secretary of State asks.

Education is not the worst case. Libraries and museums are being cut by 13 per cent. Concessionary fares to old-age pensioners and to others, if they were to meet the Secretary of State's figures for next year, would have to be cut back by 41 per cent. Does the Secretary of State dispute the figures? He cannot dispute the figures because they are contained in the statement issued by the Secretary of State to the local authorities. Leisure and recreation expenditure would have to be reduced by 33 per cent.

There is no point in the Secretary of State weeping crocodile tears for Scottish opera. He is an opera lover, which is something that can be said in his favour, but the local authorities, if they were to meet the leisure and recreation figures laid down by the Secretary of State for 1983–84, would have to reduce their budgets by 33 per cent. The Secretary of State knows that these figures are correct, but he has the brass neck to stand at the Dispatch Box and pretend that this could all be carried out painlessly in 1983–84. Next year, no doubt, he will be claiming that we still have the best pupil-teacher ratios ever even though that is because the local authorities have refused to obey the injunctions contained in the rate support grant settlement and in the guidelines issued along with it.

The Secretary of State knows that local authorities in Scotland will not make the cuts for which he asks in 1983–84. Does he honestly expect the £120 million to be saved or to be spent? He has not been clear about that. The Under-Secretary appears to be clear about it, and that is an innovation; because usually he is not clear about anything. I hope that he will clear the matter up. Local authorities are not clear about what will happen about the £120 million. What about penalties if local authorities—as they will—spend more next year than is provided in the rate support grant and guideline settlement? The issue is an unholy mess. The rate of grant in 1983–84 will come down to 61·7 per cent., compared with the 68·5 per cent. which the Secretary of State inherited when he came to office.

What about rate increases? The Secretary of State seems to take credit for the fact that domestic ratepayers in 1982–83 will not pay the increase that I forecast last year. I expect to hear more about that. Is it a matter for pride that the domestic ratepayer is paying 15 per cent. more in the current year than a year before? Does the Secretary of State take pride in the overall figures since he became responsible?

The Secretary of State told my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) on 23 December that the average domestic rate payments in Scotland, excluding water rates, rose from £137 in 1979–80 to £285 in 1982–83. That is an increase of more than 100 per cent., on expenditure which changed hardly at all in that period. Why has there been such a massive increase in rates when expenditure has increased only modestly? On numerous occasions we have explained the reasons which involve inflation, the setting of unrealistic expenditure levels and cuts in grant.

Local authorities have behaved with responsibility, but the unfortunate ratepayer in that three years has had to pay double. When water rates are taken into account the average payment in 1982–83 was more than £313.

The ordinary domestic ratepayer in Scotland used to pay less than English—though not Welsh—ratepayers. A consequence of the Secretary of State's stewardship is that by 1981–82 the ordinary domestic ratepayer in Scotland was paying more than the ordinary domestic ratepayer in England. There is no reason to be proud of that record.

Rate increases next year are likely to be modest. I agree with the Secretary of State about that. However, they will not be so modest if interest rates begin to rise again, as they have in the last week. They will not be so modest if various economic circumstances change and set the inflation rate increasing rapidly again. We have two parallel sets of figures—the local authorities' and the Secretary of State's. His figures have never matched reality and they will not in 1983–84.

Domestic ratepayers in Scotland have paid and will continue to pay a high penalty—even with the modest increase that is to take place next year—for the way in which the Secretary of State has dealt with local authorities in the past three years. They will continue to bear a high rates burden. They will enjoy services that are a good deal poorer than they ought to be and which are poorer than is necessary to deal adequately with the needs of the Scottish people. What is more, what has been achieved has been accompanied by bitterness between central and local government such as we have never before witnessed in Scotland. That is why the Opposition will vote against the order.