Local Government Finance (Wales)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:24 pm on 20th July 1989.

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Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Shadow Secretary of State 4:24 pm, 20th July 1989

If the new system is so wonderful, why the eleventh hour acrobatics to alter and improve it? Are they not a tacit admission of its unpleasantness by delaying its impact?

Will the Secretary of State explain why there appears to be a shortfall on the aggregate external finance figure? We note a paucity of the detailed examples that were provided yesterday. On that basis the Secretary of State has made a defective statement. Has not the right hon. Gentleman made inadequate provision for inflation? With the RPI at 8·3 per cent. and pay awards well over 7 per cent., the Government's estimate of the effects of inflation this year is likely to be about 3 per cent. out at outturn. Therefore, many of our councils are cheated of a lot of money.

The statement fails to take full account of the high interest rates on local councils' capital charges. Regarding the Rhondda exemplification, of which the right hon. Gentleman made much in his statement, the House should know that professional opinion is that the right hon. Gentleman is engaged in a doubtful conjuring of the figures. A current ratepayer in the Rhondda faces an average bill of £183. An average poll tax payer in the Rhondda will be paying £50 less than the Welsh average, which amounts to £125. A couple will therefore be paying £250 which is considerably more than £183, and that is before the safety net is removed. The position next year will be bad and in future it will be even worse.

Does the Secretary of State realise that the cost of preparing for and eventually running the poll tax will be at least double that of the current system? Welsh councils expect millions of pounds more to help them over that hurdle.

The statement is a wretched milestone in the history of local government. Does not the poll tax represent reaction, not reform? It is a medieval tax which will hurt ordinary families in Wales. Is it not opposed by almost everyone, except the Government? Will not the poll tax shift the burden of local services on to those least able to pay? Ultimately, the poll tax will hammer the valley communities. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to come here with a masking operation, but will not the poll tax bite most ferociously at the end of the transitional period?

This is a confidence trick. Did not the Scottish Office underestimate its eventual poll tax by 12·5 per cent.? Today we have heard fine words and clever packaging, but it is shaming to see a Secretary of State for Wales as an advocate of a poll tax. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that what he proposes goes against the grain of Wales's concept of fair play? Where is the Government's mandate for this pernicious tax?

What of teacher shortages? Will there be additional funds to secure more modern language, science and maths teachers and more teachers in Welsh? Where are the additional major resources to cover the financial burdens of the Education Act 1988 and the implementation of the national curriculum?

This is the 10th year that a Conservative Secretary of State has stood before the House to make a statement on local government finance. The Government's record has been shabby, with a 12 per cent. real terms cut in money for our councils. In return for tax cuts to the rich, we have poorer services to our local communities, a demoralised education service, a housing crisis and social services stretched to breaking point.

We reject the poll tax even now. Will the right hon. Gentleman withdraw this unwanted tax?