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Local Taxation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:17 pm on 4th July 2005.

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Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 5:17 pm, 4th July 2005

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that clear. We are drawing out some interesting information from the Liberal Democrats. First, we had business rates for second home owners; now we have the idea that some local authorities do not need equalisation. Perhaps the Liberals would place on their website a list of the local authorities that do not need any equalisation. It would be interesting to voters in those councils to know that they are being targeted by the Liberal Democrats to make a bigger contribution to local tax than before.

The problem with local tax is that the more money is spent, the more has to be raised. That is a fundamental fact that the Liberal Democrats will not accept. They will not accept that if a council spends more or wastes money, more has to be taken from the taxpayer. That is at the root of their troubles. That is why my local authority had to raise local taxation over the last four years by almost 50 per cent. I repeat that the Liberal Democrats raised taxes in the Isle of Wight by nearly 50 per cent.—something that even the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not achieved. He managed to achieve a 60 per cent. increase over eight years, but the Liberal Democrats achieved a 50 per cent. increase over four years.

You will not be surprised, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to know that the Liberal Democrats were roundly rejected in the county council elections, which coincided this year with the general election. Where they, along with their independent allies, had formerly had a majority of seats, they were reduced to five seats out of 48. That is because the people of the Isle of Wight understand that if more is spent and more is wasted, taxation will be greater and it will be local people who have to pay the tax.

By gosh, the Liberal Democrats did waste more. Let us look at how they administered the fire service on the Isle of Wight. It was described as "wholly ineffective" by the Audit Commission, which also pointed out that ideas for change were simply "not taken seriously". Because of the incompetence with which the Liberal Democrats administered the service, we were in danger of losing not only our fire control room, but entire control over the fire service from the island to the mainland.

On highways, the Liberal Democrats were criticised by an Audit Commission report three years ago not only for having some of the worst roads in the country, but for not spending the amount of money set aside to improve the roads.

On schools, we found, in the words of the Liberal Democrat portfolio holder for education, that standards were "too low" and "County Hall leadership wanting". Those were her words, so what was the Liberal Democrat solution? It was to spend £500,000 on a report about how to improve standards in schools. However, that report came up with nothing about improving standards, only with a reorganisation. It produced nothing about standards; it was all about structures—precisely the sort of thing that the Government criticise. It came up with a £70 million reorganisation with no idea of where that money would come from. It is not surprising that the Liberal Democrats went into the election somewhat lacking in the confidence of my constituents on the Isle of Wight.

The crowning glory of the Liberal Democrat election campaign was their proposal for a tourist tax. You will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as are many hon. Members who visit my constituency, that the Isle of Wight is a glittering jewel in the tourist industry, which serves many people from all over the country very well. It is a very popular place to visit, but three months before the local election, the Liberal Democrats dreamt up the idea of a tourist tax. They disguised it, of course, as Liberal Democrats often do, and called it a visiting vehicle tax. Whether people arrive by ferry or by air, most use a motor car to get around the island—