Local Government (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:30 pm on 17th January 1983.

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Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries 8:30 pm, 17th January 1983

I felt that we were watching and listening to a video recording of last year's speech when the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) told his tale of woe, doom, depression and the failure of all local authority services. The only dramatic happening of last year was the bundling out of the Socialist Lothian council for ridiculously extravagant spending.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland deserves our commendation for what he has achieved for Scotland from the Exchequer this year. His managing to get a 4·3 per cent. increase or, in cash terms, £1,924,250,000 for local authorities should be regarded in its true light and not attacked on all sides by the Opposition.

Local authorities have been asked to make no more sacrifices than have many other sectors. It is right that they should be prepared to join the rest of the country in examining budgets closely and being prepared to make savings whenever and wherever possible. Playing one's part in keeping inflation down is of the greatest benefit to the nation. That in turn will greatly benefit the economy. It will be a major step towards bringing back jobs when we move out of the world recession.

If our aim of 5 per cent. inflation in the not too distant future is to be fulfilled, the cash that is provided by the rate support grant is not far from that target. It is understandable that local authorities do not wish to be kept in as close check as my right hon. Friend is determined that they should be. It is only natural for councillors—I have been one—to want to spend money on new ideas, improvements and better services. Nevertheless, in times such as these we must exercise restraint.

It is important to bear in mind that in 1979–80 the increase in local authority expenditure was about 3·2 per cent. In 1981–82 my right hon. Friend reduced it to 0·2 per cent. We are moving in the right direction. My right hon. Friend was right to point out that we should not always be budgeting for expenditure increases. Of course, we must bear in mind the effect of inflation, but if services are running well, and if all those that are required are provided, we should not increase expenditure year by year as a matter of course.

It is most commendable that the Government's restrictions on expenditure have been so modest. There has been no slashing of expenditure and none of the vast cuts that we have heard about in the headlines. The vast cuts are to found in the projected expenditure by Socialist councils—expenditure that could not possibly be met by reasonable budgeting.

The Labour party weeps crocodile tears and tends to forget that its circular in 1976 called for a reduction in real terms—something for which we have never called—of local authority expenditure. The Labour party was never worried then about what would happen to services. Its members said that they would cut expenditure in real terms. We have not contemplated that.