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Council Tax

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:47 pm on 15th June 1995.

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Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 4:47 pm, 15th June 1995

I shall in a moment.

The people of Devon will be uneasy that the hon. Members for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam), for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter), for South Hams (Mr. Steen), for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning), for Torbay (Mr. Allason) and for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) all voted for that rotten settlement.

People in Gloucestershire will be uneasy that the hon. Members for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown), for Gloucester (Mr. French), for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) and for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland) also voted for that rotten settlement.

As we all know, the biggest impact of the settlement, with the exception of Norwich, is the threat to education and social services. It is having the same results throughout the country. Parents, governors and teachers are in revolt about the threat to their children's education. The Government have tried their desperate best to blame the authorities. They have failed in that effort, because people understand that it all depends on that rotten, rigged grant system.

I do not know whether the leaks came from the Education Secretary, who is trying to prove that she is friendly towards education, but shall we say that the newspapers gathered and then received a memorandum, which showed that the Education Secretary believed that the settlement was harmful to schools. She has been going round sweethearting teachers and other organisations, saying, "I am sticking up for you", but she has not done it sufficiently well to ensure that the caps are reduced.

The budget for Gloucestershire is the same as last year, and Gloucestershire is finding it necessary to abandon schemes to provide new centres for people with mental health problems in Newent in the Forest of Dean and in Gloucestershire. There are cuts because of massive cuts in the Government's community care grant. The council is getting fewer hours from 850 home care assistants who used to help people in desperate need in their homes so that they did not need any residential care. Some of those home care assistants have had their hours reduced by 50 per cent. because the county cannot afford to pay them. That, I gather, is being challenged in the courts.

Devon county council suffered the largest reduction in community care grant of any county in the country. It is being forced to contemplate redundancies in the education department, including teacher redundancies. Spending on pupils has, I understand, had to decrease by £270 per secondary pupil in the county, and the council is now confronted with a 10 per cent. increase in the pupil-teacher ratio. However much funny Tories may wish to argue, everyone knows that the lower the pupil-teacher ratio the better off children are. Counties have made substantial economies. Norwich city council has made economies of more than £8 million in one-off or recurrent reductions in expenditure and it has cut its staff by 15 per cent. in the past few years.

The Secretary of State usually rants on—he rants in a most seemly way, as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker—about the Audit Commission report on the massive increase in white collar workers in local authorities. Sheffield has substantially cut the number of its white collar workers at a time when everyone else appears to be increasing theirs, but it has received no credit.

Shropshire has had to cut its spending by £26 million in the past four years. The cap will lead to cuts in schools, closure of old people's homes, cuts in home care, reductions in teacher jobs and reductions in books for children. The whole thing is wrong.

If the Government are trying to ensure that every local authority in the country can serve its local community in the way that it wishes and the way that it has been democratically elected to do, the settlement shows that the Government have got things wrong. If the figures are not the product of their getting things wrong, they are the product of a malign approach to the future of many people, especially children and old people, throughout the country, and the country will not forgive them.