Local Government Finance

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17 February 1997.

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Photo of Mr Roy Hughes Mr Roy Hughes , Newport East 12:00, 17 February 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received from local authorities in respect of the level of settlement for rate support grant. [14447]

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

I met representatives of local government at a meeting of the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government Finance on 16 December, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State met representatives of police authorities in Wales on 10 January. I received about 28 written representations and I took them all into account when making my final decisions, which were approved by the House on 4 February.

Photo of Mr Roy Hughes Mr Roy Hughes , Newport East

Does the Secretary of State realise that the revenue support grant settlement is little short of a disaster for local government in Wales? Is there not a contradiction between the Government's claims about a booming economy and the simultaneous cuts and skimping on essential services, such as education and social services, run by local authorities? Does he appreciate that the people will soon have an opportunity to give their verdict on the Government's sense of priorities? I have little doubt what their verdict will be.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

It is no good the hon. Gentleman's criticising the local government settlement when Labour Front Benchers have committed the Labour party to maintaining the same expenditure in Wales for the next two years. Given that Opposition Members, including the hon. Gentleman, have said that the local government settlement is inadequate, that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) has said that the Welsh Development Agency budget would not be sufficient, and that Labour would have to pay for setting up an assembly, people are beginning to wonder how it is possible to spend more on those items without spending more in total.

Photo of Mr Llew Smith Mr Llew Smith , Blaenau Gwent

Does the Secretary of State appreciate the difficulty facing local authorities such as Blaenau Gwent, which has had to make cuts of more than £11 million in 12 months? That authority has the lowest income levels, some of the highest levels of male unemployment, and the worst health problems in Wales. Will he accept that those cuts have put the local authority in an impossible position and are hitting those people who can least afford to withstand that kind of attack?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

No. I accept that local authorities must make difficult choices between priorities, but that is true of every level of government and it is true every year. Local authorities should be able to make those choices and deliver local services as efficiently as possible. Local residents should ask themselves whether every penny that is spent by a council is spent wisely and whether it is necessary to spend every pound that is spent before asking for more money from central Government.