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Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I was about to say that the other big cost pressure that many councils have had to put up with has been the huge cost and waste involved in inspections. The Lyons inquiry estimated that about £2 billion is spent on the monitoring process. We have to reduce that. That money should be going into improving local services and cutting council tax bills for residents. Instead, it is spent on exactly the wrong things: it is spent on councils reporting upwards and being accountable to Ministers, when the focus should be on being accountable to their own electorate.
The worst thing is that such burdens, ring-fencing and top-down scrutiny from Ministers in Whitehall who do not know the communities that they are dealing with are only set to grow. We have had a similar Opposition day debate before, and now we are talking about further financial pressures on local councils resulting from some of the Government's plans for taking care of the elderly. The situation is not tenable, which is why we want to set out a different vision for local government finance.
As I have said, we want to introduce incentives and to ensure that the formula is developed sensitively and that the Audit Commission can look at it to ensure that it is transparent and fair. We need to move on to a new chapter in local government finance where councils get the powers, flexibility and resources necessary to deliver what local communities, not just Ministers, want; where there are real incentives; and where councils and the communities that they represent can truly share the benefits. It is a clear choice, and the sooner the public get to make it at a general election, the better.
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