Local Government Finance (England)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:41 pm on 29th January 1991.

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Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate 9:41 pm, 29th January 1991

We have considered what makes local authority services more expensive. That is a different exercise from urban development grant. It is not car ownership or unemployment but social factors that incur more expense for local authorities. We are focused on the right issue.

The hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) asked what would happen if his local authority or any other authority incurred special costs because of the Gulf crisis. We hope that that will not arise, but demands could be placed on social services. I give him the assurance that we shall consider that carefully if and when it becomes clear that a local authority is facing significant new burdens as a result of the Gulf crisis. He has my assurance on that point.

We had some debate—the hon. Member for Brightside complained about it—on efficiency in local government. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West spoke lucidly of the advantages of competitive tendering. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), in an excellent speech, told us of the work being done in Wandsworth and gave that extraordinarily telling example of how much more rubbish was collected per man in Wandsworth than in Southwark. I was alarmed when I heard that, under Labour's plans, the Audit Commission, which does such good work, would be subsumed. "Subsumed" is a nasty socialist verb which I shall add to my socialist phrase book.

We had much wriggling from the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) in defence of Lambeth. He came up with a marvellous phrase. He said that he would not deny that in Lambeth there were some elements of inefficiency. That may go down in the phrases of the year. He may find himself in the colour magazines at the end of the year because of it.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth and to the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) that not even the police are immune from making gains in efficiency. The Audit Commission, which under Labour's plans will be subsumed, has drawn attention to the efficiency gains that can—