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Convention Of Scottish Local Authorities

Volume 980: debated on Wednesday 5 March 1980

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5.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next expects to meet the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

30.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when next he plans to meet the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

My right hon. Friend is looking forward to addressing the annual conference of the convention at Dumfries on 28 March.

As even the political friends of the Conservative Party in local councils in Scotland are finding it difficult to cut services, increase charges and at the same time hold down rates to an acceptable level, will the Secretary of State take the opportunity at the convention conference to confess that it is impossible for local authorities to make savings without large rate increases and that the huge rate increases that will be experienced throughout Scotland are a direct result of Tory policy?

What is significant about the rate increases announced so far is that, on average, those in Conservative authorities are far less than those in Labour-controlled ones. For example, only today the Conservative-controlled Dundee district council announced a reduced rate of 2p in the pound for next year.

My hon. Friend said that most of the unacceptably high rate increases had come from Labour councils. When he meets COSLA, will he take the opportunity to discuss with it ways of placing a ceiling on future rate rises?

My right hon. Friend has indicated that he will discuss with the convention whether any new powers are appropriate for the control of expenditure. Lothian regional council has been the one authority to plan for growth. My right hon. Friend has withdrawn his general permission. In future it will be required to submit to the Secretary of State any specific proposal, which will be rigorously examined before consent is considered.

Will the Secretary of State discuss with the convention a reallocation of the rate support grant formula so that local authorities, such as those on the Borders, do not find themselves having to cut into the muscle of local government services while other authorities are able to cut into some fat?

We are having a continuing discussion with the convention on the distribution of the rate support grant formula. Wherever possible we like to meet the views of the convention if it can reach agreement on the proper criteria.

Is it not shameful to have to confess that some of the Government's friends in local authorities are keeping back rate increases? Does not that merely represent the fact that there are A-level economists in the Cabinet and O-level economists in Tory local authorities? Are they not merely aiding and abetting the Government to smash the social welfare of the Scottish people?

The inherent profligacy of the Labour Party was well represented in that question. The hon. Gentleman should recollect that the former Labour leader of the Lothian regional council resigned because he believed that cuts of up to 15 per cent. could be made in its expenditure without affecting existing vital services.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that for authorities which have been spendthrift in the past it is relatively easy to make significant expenditure cuts, and that for authorities that have been careful with ratepayers' money it is especially difficult to make cuts, although they try hard? Will he ensure that more help is given to careful authorities in future rate support grant settlements?

My hon. Friend is correct. He highlights a real problem. For the very reason to which he has drawn attention, about £100 million was switched from the resources element to the needs element in the distribution formula that was applied this year, so that profligate authorities should not benefit from their profligacy.

Later

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During Question Time, when we only reached question 13, the Under-Secretary of State linked question 5 with question 30, which happened to have been tabled by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram). I am sure that we all sympathise with Scottish Office Ministers in their lonely vigil, but would you like to express a view on the Minister's ploy to accommodate a tame Tory Back Bencher?

I should not like to express a personal opinion, but, with regard to the number of questions asked, if hon. Members will look at Hansard tomorrow and see the length of the supplementary questions, they will understand why we could not reach many more questions.