Orders of the Day — Local Government Finance (Wales)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:31 pm on 12th February 1992.

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Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley Leader and Party President, Plaid Cymru 9:31 pm, 12th February 1992

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. In the coming year we shall face more responsibility falling on local government in Wales. In 12 months time, the community care package will land. My local authority of Gwynedd faces a bill of some £750,000 and has asked the Secretary of State for help with that money in order to tackle care in the community. As more responsibilty is placed on local government, it will inevitably look to the centre for funding. Clearly, somebody has to pay for those activities, and we must have care in the community. It is not a cut-price option and must be paid for. We must introduce a mechanism to do so in an equitable manner so that those who can afford to shoulder a greater proportion of the burden do so.

My party and I favour a local income tax, but we could argue about the exact way of going about it. However, if local democracy is to mean something, there must be a fund-raising mechanism. I accept that that is equally true on the all-Wales level. If there is to be a meaningful all-Wales tier of government, that must have financial responsibility, which means the ability to raise funds. That could possibly be done by transfer to that organisation of some of the taxes currently raised—for example, value added tax.

I asked a question of the Secretary of State that has still not been answered. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) mentioned the Mid-Glamorgan equivalent of the issue that I raised in the context of Gwynedd, where we have a £500,000 shortfall in relation to the teachers' pay settlement, which has implications. If, as Gwynedd people have told me today, the implications involve either the sacking of a significant number of teachers or a significant increase in the poll tax, I hope that the Secretary of State will be prepared to look at the figures that Gwynedd proposes and show where they are wrong, if they are. If they are right, I hope that he will face up to the implications of that.

We face a housing crisis. One half, or even two thirds, of the cases that come up in surgery after surgery involve people who cannot find a place to live. The Secretary of State cannot avoid the fact that there is a crisis. Since 1979, the number of rented accommodation units available from local authorities has dropped from 308,000 to 226,000—a reduction of 82,000 in the number of council houses in Wales due to the Government's policy of selling them off. Those houses are no longer available and, as the cycle revolves, with people dying off or moving away, their houses are not available for letting to people on the list.

In the same period, the number of private rented accommodation units in Wales has dropped from 114,000 to 80,000—a reduction of 34,000. We have to counter balance against that an increase of only 14,000 in housing association units. Therefore, although we have lost 116,000 units, we have gained just 14,000—a net loss of 102,000.

Those problems would not be as bad if the people involved were in a financial position to buy their own houses, but they are not. They are out of work or, if they are in work, they have the insecurity of seeing redundancies and closures all around them.

In the Dwyfor district of my constituency, 400 people are on the waiting list for housing and cannot get houses, 20 per cent. of the housing stock are second homes which are empty for large proportions of the year and there are 800 houses on the market that people cannot sell. They are for sale at prices that people cannot afford to buy, and the local authority does not have the resources to buy the houses to rent them to those who want them. That is mismanagement.

We must crack the problem because we are creating social problems. What I have described in Dwyfor is as bad or even worse in the Arfon district, where it is compounded by the growth of University College of North Wales, Bangor. We welcome the fact that that institution is enjoying such a successful period, but, as the Minister of State knows full well, the availability of housing in Bangor is chronically low. Some 1,500 people in the Arfon district are on the waiting list. People are sleeping out and sleeping in cars, while families are having to split up, with some members living with the father and some with the mother as they have nowhere to live. That problem must be tackled.

I urge the Secretary of State to look at the financial mechanisms available to local authorities in the coming year to find a way to enable them—in one way or another —to get housing moving again so that it is available for rent to those who need it. There is a desperate need, and we must tackle the problem as a matter of urgency.