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Orders of the Day — Local Government Finance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:11 pm on 1st February 1995.

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Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire 7:11 pm, 1st February 1995

I do not want to follow the line that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) elocuted in his speech, because it is not worth following.

I praise one of my councils—Derbyshire Dales district council. Its standard spending assessment was some £6,069,000, and it is estimated that it will spend some £6,007,000. Basically, that results in a reduction of 8.1 per cent. for the council tax payer in Derbyshire Dales.

I am grateful that that council has managed to achieve that within what I accept has been a tight settlement. I praise all members of Derbyshire Dales for their prudent running of the local authority. They have reduced the community tax, and, at the same time, total council expenditure contains growth of 3.4 per cent. and inflation of 3.3 per cent. They deserve praise for the way in which they have run a prudent and efficient system.

Yet again, Derbyshire county council has been using its usual tactics to frighten everyone about the implications of its spending settlement. I say "its usual tactics", and I have slight evidence for that. I was looking through some papers this morning, and I came across a report from the county treasurer. It states: Taking the above factors into account, the County Treasurer anticipated the County Council operating in circumstances where the cost of maintaining services based on a realistic estimate of pay and price increases, amounted to £470 million, whilst the Secretary of State's assumption on Derbyshire's level of spending was £435 million, a reduction of £35 million. He said that that £35 million would mean the cutting of one of the following: 2500 teachers, the entire regular police force, maintaining County roads and supporting public transport, residential and support services for children, and elderly and physically handicapped people. That report was presented on 16 December 1987.

The problem is that, year in and year out, we hear such arguments from local authorities about the way in which they run their services. They then tell us that they should be allowed to continue in their present form. My right hon. Friend has in front of him the Derbyshire review. I do not believe that Derbyshire county council is an efficient service provider, and I hope that he will carefully take that into account when he considers his response to that review.

I accept that much of the money is spent on education. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) mentioned school meals. We know about school meals in Derbyshire because, in the past 14 years, Labour-controlled Derbyshire county council has spent more than £100 million on subsidising school meals. If that £100 million had gone into schools and education, the council would be in a far better state to provide services.

Providing those services would have been better than subsidising my children to go to those schools and to have cheap meals. What nonsense. How stupid and ridiculous. Yet the hon. Gentleman sought to defend that argument. I find that unbelievable.