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Orders of the Day — Local Government Finance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:06 pm on 1st February 1995.

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Photo of Bill Olner Bill Olner , Nuneaton 9:06 pm, 1st February 1995

I can produce another briefing, in case Conservative Members really expect to get any satisfaction from the Minister's reply. Many of them have referred to the 0.5 per cent. cap, which cannot possibly cater for the needs of communities; they have also referred to the extremely flawed SSAs. I advise those hon. Members—who have urged their Minister to act with haste—to listen to what their local authorities have said.

In 1989, Warwickshire county council embarked on an attempt to persuade the Minister and his civil servants that the county's SSAs were flawed and unrealistic, and did not take account of local needs. The same applied to the cap. The council persevered, making representations in 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994 and trying to persuade the Government to reconsider their SSAs and rate support grant settlement for Warwickshire. I have joined the council in its representations. We were listened to very politely, but at the end of the day nothing happened, although it was a Conservative-controlled authority that originally complained to the Government.

Some hon. Members have referred to councils setting expenditure limits above the cap, and then throwing themselves on the Secretary of State's mercy in an attempt to have the cap increased. I do not think that Warwickshire will dare to do that this year, unless the Secretary of State gives a sign that he is prepared to increase the cap before it sets its budget. If the Secretary of State does not take into account the amount by which the budget exceeds the cap, rebuilding that budget will cost another half a million pounds of council tax payers' money. Local authorities are being squeezed in a pincer movement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) mentioned a double whammy, but when councils can make no sense of the SSAs, cannot secure additional funds from the revenue support grant or a lifting of the cap and cannot even ask their council tax payers to contribute an extra 25p a week, it is really a triple whammy. Warwickshire's SSA is one of the lowest in the country, and should be reassessed. The 1995 cap will reduce school budgets in cash terms, and seriously damage the education of children in my constituency.

Last Friday, I went to a meeting in Leamington. Conservative Members are wrong if they think that they can hide the facts from their communities. More than 800 people attended the meeting—parents, head teachers, school governors and chairmen of governing boards, of all political persuasions. Those people know exactly where the blame lies, and that what has been done will lead to the demise of Warwickshire's education service.

A wonderful machine is now wheeled out on Saturday evenings. Numbers are drawn out of it. I think that it is called the national lottery. The SSAs are very much like that machine; the only difference is that it costs local authorities very much more than a pound to have a go.

It seems that, even now, the Government do not know how they constructed the SSA machine. For the same reason they do not know how to fix it, and the mess in which they find themselves will be to the detriment of everyone in the country.