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Orders of the Day — Local Government Finance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:31 pm on 1st February 1995.

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Photo of Mr Michael Carttiss Mr Michael Carttiss , Great Yarmouth 7:31 pm, 1st February 1995

I shall read my speech very quickly and I shall not take any interventions.

I do not dissent too much from the speeches made by right hon. and hon. Members who are in the Conservative parliamentary party and I am grateful to the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), for seeing representatives of Norfolk county council on 4 January. His hon. Friend, the Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), wrote to me on 27 January about that meeting. His letter states: At the meeting the council representatives asked for a higher spending limit for Norfolk and spelt out their particular concerns on the reduction in Education SSA, on the Area Cost Adjustment, and on personal social services. These views will of course be taken into account by the Secretary of State prior to making his decisions on the 1995/96 Local Government Finance (England) Report and the Special Report. My hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) spoke about the area cost adjustment and reflected the considerable concern that exists in many counties, irrespective of party control, about the unfair way in which it works.

The result of Norfolk county council representatives' meeting with the Minister of State was that, between the announcement on 1 December of Norfolk's revenue support grant settlement and today's debate, Norfolk's grant was cut by £210,000 by the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench.

Norfolk has consistently spent well below the average for English counties. Suffolk is represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo), who intervened on a fellow Member—the Secretary of State—who represents another Suffolk constituency, to complain about the Lib-Lab way in which Suffolk was being run. Curiously enough, despite knowing the bad way in which it is being run, the Secretary of State has given Suffolk an increase of £300,000 since 1 December.

Surrey's grant goes up by £2.69 million. I accept that it is a big county and has high expenditure but the increase goes down very badly with my constituents in Norfolk, bearing in mind the fact that, in 1992–93, Norfolk county council spent £584.54 per head on county-provided services whereas the average figure for English counties in the same period was £613.78. The county council has a spending limit set by the Government of £424.4 million. The county treasurer calculates that this represents a shortfall of £20 million on projected expenditure in 1995–96.

As several right hon. and hon. Members have said, local authorities want to spend more. Most people, including Conservatives, seek local government service because they want to promote improved services for their communities but county treasurers cannot always have as much as they want. Norfolk has a long history of strict economy when budgeting and it has every reason tonight to expect as many of its parliamentary representatives as possible to impress on the Government, as have other right hon. and hon. Members, that enough is enough."— [Official Report, 20 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 93.] I quote further: Norfolk has been a sensible, moderate, low-spending authority".—[Official Report, 25 July 1985; Vol. 83, c. 1331.] Those are the words of the then Secretary of State for the Environment, which I cited in my speech on 20 January 1986. The Secretary of State who spoke appreciatively of Norfolk when he announced the 1986–87 RSG settlement on 25 July 1985 was the then right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford, now Lord Jenkin.

On the night of 20 January I also said: Socialists and Liberals have never controlled Norfolk county council, and they never will, because I am confident that, recognising the strength of feeling among Conservative Members, the Government will introduce a more equitable system next year."—[Official Report, 20 January 1986: Vol.90, c.95.] In fact, my predictions were doubly wrong: the Government did not introduce a more equitable system and nor have they done so for Norfolk today. My prediction about the election result was wrong because in 1993, for the first time in the history of my county, we were lumbered with a Lib-Lab alliance to run our affairs. I partly blame the Government for that result.

The overall increase allowed for in funding essential county services in Norfolk is 0.5 per cent. If the Government had said on 28 November that they were going to limit the increase in their contribution to the European Union budget to 0.5 per cent., I would still be a member of the parliamentary party because I would have voted for that. However, we are giving money to the European Union but are making our own local authorities impose cuts.

People who say that there will be no cuts are wrong—of course there will. One cannot increase overall expenditure by a mere 0.5 per cent. at a time of 2 per cent. inflation without making cuts. Let us not be mealy-mouthed about that. If the European Union can have the money, so can Norfolk. I want it spent on schools in Great Yarmouth and on highway maintenance in my villages, not on subsidies for tobacco growers in Greece and olive growers in Italy.

This afternoon, the Secretary of State for the Environment talked about the difficult decisions faced by the Government in restraining and reducing their own spending. In fact, the Department of Health