Orders of the Day — Standard Spending Assessment (Cumbria)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:26 pm on 31st January 1990.

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Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew , Carlisle 10:26 pm, 31st January 1990

The Government's spending target for Cumbria is ridiculous; it reflects the classic north-south syndrome and indicates the inability of Whitehall to recognise the needs of Cumbria or of any other area outside the south-east.

Those are not my words, but those of the leader of the Conservatives on Cumbria county council. An article in the Evening News and Star of 16 January states: Tories attack Thatcher. County poll axed. It goes on to state that the group in Cumbria would not seek to meet the Government's target which would mean cuts of up to £33 million.

I wonder whether Mr. Gyngell and his colleagues on the county council now regret their enthusiasm for the introduction of the poll tax. They fought the 1989 election campaign on the basis of the poll tax. They said that it was a good thing. I wonder whether they are so sure now, when their electors must pay the price of the Government's policy.

The standard spending assessment for the county fails to respect or reflect the costs of providing services, particularly education and fire services, in a large and sparsely populated county such as Cumbria. It underestimates the significance of the cost of road maintenance and winter maintenance and it inadequately funds what is called "other resources". It grossly overestimates potential interest receipts.

I now refer to winter maintenance, to give hon. Members some idea of how the SSA was put together. Cumbria is the second largest county in England. It has within it the Lake district, with many of the highest passes in the country and very bad roads in winter. It was originally granted £90,000 for snow clearing, which is less than the London borough of Camden was granted. That gives some indication of the thought that went into the SSA. It was only through representations by Members of Parliament and a high-powered delegation from the county council that that figure was changed. It is still inadequate.