Local Authority Representatives

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd March 2000.

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Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth 12:00 am, 22nd March 2000

How many representatives of local authorities he has met in Wales since November 1999. [114265]

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

Both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have met a number of representatives of local authorities in the past few months. In particular, since October 1999 I have met representatives of 17 local authorities in Wales to discuss the Local Government Bill, and I plan to meet representatives of the remaining five local authorities as soon as possible.

Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth

I thank my hon. Friend for the meeting that was held in the Welsh Office with representatives of the community councils in Monmouthshire. They are concerned about the 18 per cent. increase in council tax that results from the funding formula, and about how it discriminates against rural areas such as Monmouthshire, which also has pockets of deprivation. Those include Llanelly Hill and the Rother estate, both of which will be visited next week by the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs as part of its inquiry into social exclusion. I remind my hon. Friend that the schools in those estates—Llwynu and Darenfelin—will be delighted with the Chancellor's announcement in the Budget of the extra funding for primary schools.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. As I mentioned to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), it is a common view on the part of the Welsh Local Government Association and the Assembly that the formula for distributing grant to local authorities has some faults and needs revision. Those bodies are working to produce a new, fairer formula shortly. On the second point, I am proud to be here today as part of a Labour Government who have made available some £50 million in Wales as a result of the Budget, which the National Assembly can use to tackle those very issues in regard to schools. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on his initiatives because the Conservative party would never have given that extra funding to schools in Wales.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Opposition Whip (Commons)

When the Minister met local authorities in Wales, did he discuss the problem of the systematic politicisation of NHS appointments, which was identified by the Commissioner for Public Appointments in her report this morning? Can he explain why that Government report has not been placed in the Library or in the Vote Office prior to the commencement of business this afternoon?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

I have not had the opportunity to discuss that particular aspect with local authorities. It may be before the hon. Gentleman's time, but I can recall people such as Sir Geoffrey Inkin and Ian Grist, the latter being the former Member of Parliament for Cardiff, Central, who went straight into the chairmanship of a health trust following his defeat in the election. We shall examine the report, but I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that his question is an example of the pot calling the kettle black.

Photo of Betty Williams Betty Williams Labour, Conwy

When my hon. Friend had the deep and meaningful discussions with local authorities' representatives, was he able to discuss openness in local government? Many colleagues on both sides of the House signed an early-day motion a few months ago that criticised some councillors in Gwynedd for being economical with the truth when declaring their interests. Given that, since then, those councillors have had to apologise to the council, does that not show that openness in local government is very important?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

I note what my hon. Friend has said about Gwynedd county council. The Local Government Bill will ensure that local authorities have a strong ethical dimension and that we provide an ethical framework to which councillors can adhere. On the question of openness, I urge all local authorities to ensure that the minutes that they take of cabinet committees are put into the public domain as far as possible, so that people can judge, examine and scrutinise effectively local authorities' decisions.

Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Shadow Spokesperson (Wales)

The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) was right to express his concerns about council tax increases in his constituency. However, if he were more in touch with his constituency—as I was this morning in speaking to the local authority—he would know that the council tax increase in Monmouthshire is 24 per cent. and a typical band D council tax will go up from £480 to £603. That is to pay for the four overspending local authorities in Wales. How will the Under-Secretary of State tell council tax payers in his constituency and in the Secretary of State's constituency why they are suffering council tax increases of more than 10 per cent. when the average for England is only 6 per cent. and the average for inner London is under 5 per cent.?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Gentleman would know a lot about council tax in England as he represents a seat in Dorset. Having said that, Monmouthshire still has the third lowest council tax in Wales. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognised that in his discussions this morning. The Assembly and the Welsh Local Government Association have agreed that there should be a damping scheme for 2000–01. The formula for distributing grants to local authorities is flawed. That is why the Assembly, the Welsh Local Government Association and the Government, as we take an interest in it, will look at how that formula works in future years.