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Council Tax

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:08 pm on 15th June 1995.

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Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Environment 4:08 pm, 15th June 1995

I am surprised at Norwich because it could have asked for special determination, to enable it to charge 80 per cent. of the cost of the ending of the temporary rule system. That would have saved the council more than £500,000, but it did not bother to take advantage of that. It is hard to understand how Norwich is in difficulties when it was not willing to ensure that it took the maximum opportunities. It had known for about 15 months that its present policies would end in it not being able to meet the proper requirements of the Government and council tax payers. It made that clear to my hon. Friend and officials some time ago. I shall come to the situation of Norwich in a moment.

I designated all the authorities that I have mentioned on 4 April and proposed for each of them a maximum amount or cap for its budget. The authorities then had 28 days in which to accept or challenge their caps. We listened carefully to the representations that were made by South Yorkshire fire and civil defence authority and by others, and accepted at the outset that the cap implied by the capping principles would not be achievable. Therefore, we proposed a cap at the same level as that proposed by the authority as its budget requirement. South Yorkshire fire and civil defence authority accepted that cap and is not included in the order.

The remaining nine authorities decided to challenge their proposed caps and suggested alternative maximum amounts. In each case they proposed as their alternative their original budgets and submitted detailed papers setting out their case for a higher cap. My hon. Friends the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) and the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration met delegations from all the authorities to hear their case. Before taking my decisions, I carefully considered the points of all the authorities, including those made at the meetings, and the representations made by hon. Members and other interested parties.

Much time and effort has been spent to ensure that each authority has had a full opportunity to put its case to us in an effective fashion and that we properly understood the points and figures that they put to us. In assessing the impact of our decisions, we relied, of course, very largely on the local authorities' own figures and estimates. Of course, it is bound to be true that, in presenting a case, local authorities will put those figures in the most effective way. The cases presented by the four shire counties focus primarily on their concerns about the impact on school budgets and, in the case of Gloucestershire and Shropshire, on social services.