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Rate Support Grant

Volume 4: debated on Wednesday 6 May 1981

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17.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment by what percentage he estimates that the shift of rate support grant from district to county councils will increase the total grant paid to county councils in England in 1981–82 compared with 1980–81.

Block grant is paid to each authority individually. In 1980–81 most of the previous grant nominally paid to districts was passed on to counties through the precept. When this is taken into account, there has been a shift of an estimated 0·47 percentage points from districts to counties in shire areas and 1·08 percentage points in metropolitan areas.

Is not the shift in Government grant in favour of the county councils, which is equivalent to county rates of as much as 78p in the pound in Lancashire and Northumberland and 80p in the pound in Cumbria, deliberately designed to coincide with the county council elections and to disguise bad financial management by outgoing Tory county councils?

The hon. Member will be aware that the Labour Government took £350 million from the provinces to concentrate it in London. I have readjusted that balance this year, as I believe it to be fair in the light of the new measured needs of individual authorities. The hon. Member will be interested to learn that Humberside was a grant loser and has still managed to reduce its rate levels in a way that Conservative authorities have proved is possible.

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been called to the decision by the valuation court in the matter between Westminster council and Imperial College, London, whereby the rateable value of Imperial College has been substantially increased? Has he realised the serious implications of that for all universities and colleges of higher education?

That is a most important matter. I shall take an early opportunity to consider those implications with my other colleagues, who will be as interested as I in the outcome.

Why is the right hon. Gentleman deliberately concealing the information which he has locked away in his Department about the number of Conservative-controlled county councils which have budgeted to overspend on his spending targets and which could be liable to his penalties? Is not he conducting that discreditable cover-up to prevent the voters in the county elections learning that, because of those prospective penalties, a vote for the Conservatives tomorrow means higher rates, because there will be a claw-back through those penalties, worse services and more redundancies than have so far been brought about by all the Tory councils?

Obviously the right hon. Gentleman has woken up to the fact that there are some elections tomorrow. He must be aware that Labour parties that are trying to take over the control of councils are already planning supplementary rates to finance inflationary policies which have done so much damage to the areas already controlled by the Labour Party. He must already be aware that I have not sought to conceal figures. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) must be aware that I would have been able to provide more information about the level of expenditure in local government in the present budgeted year but for the fact that when I examined the detailed figures in the last few days I found that some authorities had still not sent in their returns. I discovered which authorities were involved. The principal authorities were Labour-controlled Leeds and Hackney. I asked whether the returns of those authorities had come in and discovered that they had come in that day. The outstanding authority that came to my mind at that time was Bolsover.

As the right hon. Gentleman now admits that he has the returns from every Conservative-controlled county council, will he tell us about the budgets of those councils? How many have overspent his 5·6 per cent. target, and how many will be subject to his penalties? Do not voters tomorrow have the right to the information which he is suppressing?

The voters tomorrow will know all too well that the increases in rates this year in Labour authorities have been at twice the rate of those in Conservative authorities. The one thing about which voters tomorrow can be sure is that if they want their rates to increase they should vote Labour.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is no faster way to ensure the destruction of the industrial economy than to put up the rate burden to a degree which industry cannot afford.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.