Local authorities may not incur any liability to meet capital expenses without the consent of my right hon. Friend. As regards current expenditure, local authorities generally speaking do not require the prior approval of my right hon. Friend.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is deep resentment among my constituents at the extravagant way in which Fife regional council is throwing about ratepayers' money in support of Arthur Scargill's political strike, ranging from expenditure on Christmas parties to substantial payments and loans to striking miners and their families? Some of that provision is wasteful because, if it were not paid for by Fife regional council, it would be paid for by the DHSS. Is my hon. Friend aware that many of my constituents feel that if those payments are not illegal they should be made so? Is my hon. Friend aware that urgent action is needed to protect the interests of ratepayers?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Obviously, it is up to each authority to satisfy itself that it has the power to make those payments. It is extraordinary that authorities—not just my hon. Friend's authority—which are constantly claiming that they do not have sufficient resources to service the needs of their areas can make that extra expenditure. The ratepayers are being asked to subsidise the failure of responsibility by the NUM.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, as the Government directly control capital expenditure, they are responsible for the decay of the infrastructure in Scotland and the rotting away of services for housing, roads, hospitals and schools, which are greatly in need of repair?
I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman has seen last year's allocations. We take into account the bids made to us by authorities and try to meet them within the available resources.
The hon. Gentleman has confirmed that some categories of revenue require prior Government approval. Will he confirm also that the methods of assessing the needs of local authorities require prior Government approval? When will the Under-Secretary of State introduce the proper client-group approach of assessing local authorities' expenditure?
The hon. Gentleman should look at the system that exists at the moment, because need is assessed on the basis of the client-group approach. The guidelines are drawn up on the same basis. Increasingly, from year to year, we are making sure that the distribution of rate support grant occurs in accordance with that same system.