Housing and Local Government (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:41 pm on 25th January 1990.

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Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North 6:41 pm, 25th January 1990

It is unfortunate that, at the end of the debate, we must cram in short speeches, largely because, in opening the debate, the Secretary of State treated us to an epic epistle to absent friends. He spoke for 40 minutes.

At the end of the debate, in marked contrast to what we had from the Secretary of State, we get down to the nitty-gritty of our discussion. It is not about abstruse statistics or about calculations in the basement of the Scottish Office. It is about human beings, and in particular about the housing conditions in which they are having to live. Anyone who walks through the streets and is in touch with the real world of people who live in our constituencies knows that there are conditions which are appalling; that they are getting worse; and that authorities are being starved of resources by the Government.

A revealing figure is the housing revenue statistics that were accepted by the Government as the grant calculation figure for the management and maintenance of council stock. It is £407 per house; but the real figure which local authorities will announce next year is not £407 but £466. The difference between the two is represented by the cases we see in our surgeries and about which we read in letters concerning repairs and maintenance that cannot be carried out.

Give local authorities the resources to do a decent job on behalf of their tenants and they will do it, for they are crying out to do it; but producing bogus statistics and saying that it is £407 instead of £466 does not change the realities of the situation. It simply changes the script and the false basis on which the statistics are prepared.

The poll tax calculations produced by the Government are based largely on false assumptions about inflation and the performance needs of local government. All the time, we get a politically motivated picture. The Secretary of State is trying to build up that picture by saying, on the one hand, that profligate Labour councils are doing things that do not need to be done, are taking daft decisions and are creating services for which there is no demand. He speaks, on the other, of cautious, penurious Conservative councils which are watching every penny they spend.

Look in detail at the figures and the real picture becomes clear, while Scottish opinion polls show that 50 per cent. of the people support Labour policies and 16 per cent. support the Government.

Let us take a quick spin round Scotland to see some of the realities that lie behind the facade that the Government erects. It being Burns night, it is appropriate to go first to Ayr— Auld Ayr, wham ne'er a town surpasses For honest men and bonnie lasses. The Tory lead is down to a stump, and John Mackay has got the bump. In Ayr, there is a 40 per cent. increase in the revenue support grant settlement to the good Labour council, leading to a cut in the level of poll tax.

Move up the Ayrshire coast to Cunninghame and we find an increase of 13 per cent. in the poll tax. It is not difficult to see why there is that difference, recalling what Kyle and Carrick are getting. Whereas the latter has an increase of 40 per cent., the increase in Cunninghame is barely 3·5 per cent.

No wonder, when consulting that valuable organ of public opinion, The Largs and Millport Weekly News,—we find that the Leader of the Conservative group on Cunninghame district council is not attacking the Labour administration for a poll tax increase of 13 per cent. but congratulating that administration on keeping the increase to that figure. That newspaper reported: The budget was welcomed as a fair one by Tory councillors. Group Leader Edith Clarkson said the committee convenors and officers had done 'very well' … The local Conservative councillor hit out at the lack of support from the Government who cut Cunninghame's revenue support grant. She expressed extreme concern over the lack of grant aid. It is nice to know that there are Tories somewhere who have not yet fallen under the malign influence of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling.

We move on to Strathclyde, also cited as a bogey figure despite years of fiscal responsibility since its inception. There can be a lower poll tax in Strathclyde, but at a cost. The Tory budget for the area, reported today involves £9 million-worth of cuts in education expenditure. Do the people of Strathclyde want that? They will have a chance to say when they vote in May.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said, it is interesting to see the cost when we cross to Lothian. Mr. Moderate Meek has put forward the Tory budget, which includes selling off seven old folks' homes and a ski slope, closing down welfare rights services and taking away concessionary bus passes. Any fool can make cuts, but everybody in Scotland must realise the price that would be paid for the figures that the Tories are putting forward. Those figures are based on cuts in the level not of luxury services but of necessities.

In Lothian this year they would sell off the old folks' homes—as they do a Bradford—and they would sell off a ski slope, thereby keeping the poll tax artificially low. Perhaps the Secretary of State will tell us what Lothian should sell next year or the year after that.