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Essex County Council (Expenditure And Rates)

Volume 930: debated on Wednesday 20 April 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will discuss with the Essex County Council the effect of Government policies on local government expenditure and rates.

I am aware of the problems facing the county as a result of discussions at official level. However, decisions about priorities for expenditure are for the county council to take.

Is the Minister aware that, apart from a continuing sense of grievance by many at being penalised for heeding the Government's call for economies last year, there is a strong feeling that not enough account has been taken of the problems created by an expanding population, and one that is still expanding? Will he assure the House that these factors will be taken into account in considering the formula for next year's settlement?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that Essex has been penalised in this respect. This matter has nothing to do with the assessment of the rate support grant needs element; it is a question of the degree to which authorities keep within certain guidelines. It has a great deal to do with the assessment of spending need rather than with the question of spending alone. We shall take into account any points that the hon. Gentleman or the county wishes to raise. There is little evidence to suggest that the growing population and its needs necessarily implies a requirement to spend more per head of population. That, perhaps, is one reason why Essex may feel a sense of grievance.

Will my hon. Friend make it clear that the Labour Government do not support all the vicious cuts imposed by the Essex County Council, particularly in education, where capitation allowances, the heating of swimming pools and the staffing in schools examinations, fees, and all the rest of it have suffered? Is he aware that the Labour group of the Essex County Council has been voted down in efforts to try to maintain some of these services for the public?

It would be wrong of me to comment on the points that my hon. Friend has rightly put to the House—[Interruption.] It is right that the electors in Essex should make their comments in the elections.