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As I intend to touch on a number of education matters, it is important for me to declare my interest as an adviser to two teacher associations. I assure the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) that I shall shortly deal with his points.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the Government have no love for local government. They do not like it, and they do not trust it. Therefore, they have set out systematically to destroy it, and they are doing that by reducing its powers, often giving them to remote, undemocratic quangos. In addition, as we have noticed in the debate, the Government are attempting to starve local government to death, and with it many of the much-needed and valued services that it provides. For evidence, we need only look at the settlement.
We all know the figures as they have been discussed already, but perhaps the best source of information is the press release issued by the Department of the Environment on 29 November last year. It states that, net of community care, the settlement represents a cash decrease of 0.4 per cent. As all hon. Members know, when inflation is taken into account, that means a significant cut in the amount of money being made available to local government. I do not need to refer to more up-to-date information, because figures contained in recent announcements are almost identical to those in that press release.
Despite all the delegations that came to plead with the Secretary of State and the Minister, very little has changed. Little notice has been taken of the people in those delegations, all of whom care about local government. The present cuts are on top of cuts in previous years. The Government are calling for local government fat to be removed, but the fat was removed many years ago. The flesh has now gone, and the bones will soon be bleached white.
The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) spoke about savings that were outlined in the Audit Commission report. He will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that the report suggested about £540 million. I am sure he accepts that those savings were intended to be made over seven years, and that more than 50 per cent. of the report's recommendations have already been enacted.