Local Government Finance

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 5:27 pm on 3rd February 2010.

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Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West 5:27 pm, 3rd February 2010

I want to make a few observations and I will try to be brief because I know that many hon. Friends wish to speak. Like other hon. Members, before I was a Member of Parliament, I was the Labour leader of a council under a Conservative Government. I can attest that the experience under this Government, with their attitude to local government, although there are some things that I criticise them for, is light years away from the experience of council leaders under the previous Conservative regime. It attempted to set the budget of every council in this country, a Stalinist exercise that has never been exceeded and that, I hope, will never be emulated by any Government, and that is not to mention the gerrymandering of the grant system. That needs to be said. I know I am of an age that means that I perhaps have a longer memory than Justine Greening, but take it from me: this Government are in a completely different, and much better league, as regards local government and the attitude of central Government to local government. Indeed I commend the steps that the Secretary of State has taken to move the balance further towards local government, although he still has a long way to go.

I want to make a number of remarks following the hon. Lady's speech. The way in which her hon. Friends-apart from Sir Paul Beresford, my fellow member of the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government-deserted the Chamber and left her in an acre of empty Green Benches is distressing. I guess that they have done that because, like me, they were somewhat distressed by the innumeracy that she demonstrated, and her lack of understanding of local government finance. That is incredibly distressing in someone who wishes to become one of the Ministers in charge of it.

First, we are not talking about the national non-domestic rate, which is not relevant, but about the system of local government finance as it relates to the council tax. The hon. Lady must know that revaluation, unless each individual council chooses to use it as an excuse for increasing the total council tax take in their area, does not mean that everybody's bill goes up; it means that some people's bills go up and some people's go down. It is absolutely indefensible for her to continue in this way: either she does not understand it, or she is continuing to state something that she knows is not accurate.

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