Standard spending assessments are a realistic reflection of local needs. Discussions with the local authority associations about a few possible changes for 1993–94 began in February. Data from the 1991 census will be incorporated into the assessments as soon as possible, but for most items this will probably be for 1994–95.
The Minister would need the wisdom of Solomon to devise a national system of assessment that fitted all the circumstances even approximately. Does he concede, however, that the SSAs do a particular injustice to such places as Grimsby? First, they make no allowance for unemployment; secondly, they do make allowance for ethnic communities, which do not exist in Grimsby; thirdly, they make allowance for visiting nights, but unfortunately not many tourists come to Grimsby; and, fourthly, the method of assessing debt repayment has been a particular source of grievance. The difference between the Department's calculation and the sum that Grimsby is actually repaying amounts to £30 to £40 per head on the poll tax. Does not all that make a case for a much more realistic SSA?
I am unsurprised by the hon. Gentleman's comments. I pay tribute to him: he asks a good many questions about this subject, and he has asked a good many on this occasion. Let me concentrate on two of them.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned unemployment. As he knows, we judge that unemployment is not a relevant factor in the assessment relating to district-level services. He also raised the question of notional debt. The use of notional debt ensures that all authorities are treated fairly; if we acted otherwise, we would disadvantage authorities that had previously chosen to use capital receipts to repay their debts.
The county of Dorset is excellent at keeping within its spending limits, and it is a debt-free county. It is often felt that, when the Government set the SSA, Dorset is treated unfairly simply because it is a good Tory authority. The community care budget in particular will have to be increased considerably in all counties—especially in counties such as Dorset, which contain large numbers of elderly people. Will my hon. Friend ensure that the new SSA for Dorset will be generous, and that an early indication is given of when it will apply?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I sympathise with some of his points. He will have heard my earlier answer on community care: the Government will not make an announcement until the autumn. However, to repeat something that I said a few moments ago, standard spending assessments are calculated according to general principles and are applied in the same way to all authorities. One of the reasons why my hon. Friend's local authority will receive a relatively lower SSA is that, by most measurements of need, it does not have the same degree of need as other areas with higher SSAs.