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Orders of the Day — Local Government Finance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:38 pm on 1st February 1995.

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Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon 9:38 pm, 1st February 1995

No, I have very little time and a lot more ground still to cover.

We are also looking at the homelessness indicator in the SSAs. That is relevant not merely to the SSAs hut to capital financing of the housing programme. It is important to have a robust methodology relevant to both those considerations.

That is not an exclusive list. Local authorities will want us to discuss other matters, which we always try to do in agreement with them.

The settlement must be seen in context. The Government must take account of the fact that local authorities spend 25 per cent. of all public expenditure. Typical budgets are: £620 million in Devon; £920 million in Hampshire; and £940 million in Lancashire. For big cities like Birmingham a typical budget is about £900 million, while the budget for Manchester is £430 million and, for Leeds, £500 million. We do not tell local authorities how to spend that money. It is the heart of the system that it is not hypothecated; they make their own decisions and allocate priorities. Nothing in our settlement compels people to penalise teachers. It is entirely up to them to decide where to allocate priorities, which is what local democracy is about and what local councillors are elected to do. The efficient councils will cope, inefficient ones will blame the Government and middling ones will probably try both. That has been the pattern in the past.

Councils can help themselves by looking at arrears in council tax collection and at whether they apply competitive tendering properly. They must put their own house in order. I acknowledge the fact that they have made progress. Many good authorities have come to grips with working properly and work in collaboration with the private sector to make life better for their communities. We must push that process much further.

We still need to know how much a Labour Government would spend, how much the council tax would go up, what would happen when they got rid of compulsory competitive tendering and what would happen when they put Unison back in control of the councils. All we have heard is the bizarre idea that we should send in the Audit Commission, not merely to go to high-spending councils but, according to the Opposition's remarkable new philosophy—Dobson's dictum—to attack councils that set low council taxes, because that is now undesirable. I can think of nothing dafter than to send in the Audit Commission to check councils because they are spending less taxpayers' money rather than more—thou shalt not set a low council tax. That is a funny way to run local authorities.

We know who the high spenders and municipal malingerers are. They are all Labour party local authorities. It is the old, eternal list of councils that are not making an effort, and that list must be sorted out. Labour's inefficiency is a tax on deprivation, a tax on the poor and a tax on those who are in greatest need. A half-baked, uncosted, knee-jerk solution will be a disaster for ordinary people who most need the services that local government provides. I urge hon. Members to have no truck with the Labour party's policy and to support us in the Lobby tonight.