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Rate Arrears

Volume 892: debated on Wednesday 14 May 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the latest estimate which he has of the total of rate arrears in Scotland.

Information is not collected on a national basis; figures for each authority are published in its annual abstract of accounts. I understand that the amount of arrears tends to be small in relation to total rates levied.

In view of the leniency shown by the Secretary of State and other Ministers towards councillors who did not implement the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1972, will the hon. Gentleman consider leniency also towards ratepayers who in certain areas of Scotland may face massive increases in rates, to such an extent that they may find it impossible to pay them?

I do not think that anybody will face massive increases in rates because of anything that has happened, or is likely to happen, under the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1975.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there are certain areas where people will face a massive increase in rates whether or not they were involved in what happened under the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act? In particular, in the Banff and Buchan area of the Grampians region, certain burghs face rate increases of more than 100 per cent. What steps has the hon. Gentleman taken to have discussions with those authorities to see whether the blow can be softened, to give people an opportunity to meet a reasonable increase but not the savage increases with which they are now faced?

We have already introduced transitional arrangements. I believe that another Question about this is to be answered a little later, a Question affecting the regional rate burden, which is much the biggest part of the total rate burden. I think it will be found, when these arrangements are taken into account, that some of the forecast increases will not happen. Incidentally, if increases result from redistribution within a region there will be corresponding reductions elsewhere.

Will the Minister take the simple step of adding up the figures from the various authorities so that the House may have an idea of the total rate arrears position in Scotland? Would not that be prudent? The transitional order that the hon. Gentleman has presented appears to offer no Government action to help the transition but simply transfers the burden from one area to another, so that if there is a reduction in one area the cost will be added to another within the same region.

We have already increased the rate support grant from 68 per cent. to 75 per cent. of total local authority expenditure. That is a massive increase, well beyond anything the previous Government ever achieved. In the first part of his supplementary question the hon. Gentleman was talking about a redistribution within the regions. If any changes in rate burden arise there, they come from local government reorganisation, which was put through by the previous Government. It was always expected that there would be changes in rate burdens there. We have lessened them as far as we can.

On rate arrears, I have information about the four cities up to the end of 1973–74. The figure as a whole is less than 1 per cent. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) may be interested to know that in Edinburgh total rate arrears were then proportionately three times as high as in Dundee, four times as high as in Glasgow and 10 times as high as in Aberdeen. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should direct his inquiries first to his own backyard.