The Minister is very knowledgeable about local government finance and he knows the answer to his own question. It is because Cambridgeshire is an education authority. The unitary authorities have fared better under his grant system and the district councils have fared poorly.
It is small wonder that Runnymede council, which was rated "excellent" by the Government's watchdog, has had to double its council tax since 1997 to make up for its 20 per cent. decrease in real terms grant. One council leader rang me up this week saying that he will have to risk capping with a 5.9 per cent. increase because he is just not prepared to cut services. As a unitary authority, his council received a poor settlement of a 4.4 per cent. increase, compared to an average of 6.1 per cent. for comparable authorities. It just goes to show how unfair the system is.
Eight years ago, the Government started with a policy of deliberately forcing up council tax in what they perceived as affluent areas, then they panicked and capped, and they are now forcing service cuts on the same areas. Would the Minister like to tell me which services he wants councils such as Southend to cut?
We could spend a great deal longer than a single Opposition day discussing the smoke and mirrors deployed by this Administration in local government finance, but the fact is that the people to whom we are accountable—the tax-paying public—know that since 1997 council tax has gone through the roof.