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Yesterday I chaired a meeting of the Consultative Council for Local Government Finance. It was said during the meeting that some of the staff increases have been due to policies that have been imposed on local authorities by Government. Bearing in mind that many authorities have been able to continue to reduce staff numbers, I think that that argument needs to be considered with a pretty cold and calculating eye. However, I invited the associations to submit any hard evidence that they had to justify the proposition and gave an undertaking to study it.
Early next week I hope to announce expenditure targets for 1984–85. Once again, local authorities will have over six months before they have to set their rates. At the same time, the Government will publish their proposals on rate limitation.
Throughout our first period of office, the Government sought with great patience, if I may say so, to follow the path of co-operation, persuasion and encouragement. It is not the Government who have sought confrontation. Each year the Government have successively revised upwards their expenditure plans so that expenditure targets can take account of local government's real level of spending. That has happened as we have tried realistically to set targets for local authorities. Despite this constructive attitude, there remains a minority of irresponsible authorities—;the authorities are virtually all Labour-controlled—which is determined to undermine traditional constitutional relationships. It is these authorities which have forced our hand. They insist that their freedom to tax the ratepayers comes before the Government's duty to manage the economy, and that is unacceptable.
The duty to manage the economy is one that Ministers have to the House and for which they are accountable to the House. We do not have a federal constitution, and in a unitary authority it is the Government's duty that must prevail in the end. Therefore, we are left with no alternative but to seek new statutory powers.