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Local Government Finance

Volume 98: debated on Wednesday 4 June 1986

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next proposes to meet the officers of Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to discuss the matter of local government finance.

My right hon. and learned Friend next plans to discuss local government finance matters with the convention on 18 July.

Will the Minister bear in mind that as a result of the recent elections officers of the convention have a massive mandate to tell the Secretary of State that they do not approve of his massive interference in the management of local government finance and that there is massive opposition to rate reform as envisaged by the Secretary of State? Will he take those two points on board and really listen to what the officers have to say?

We shall obviously listen to what representatives of the convention have to say when the meeting takes place. The idea of the Government being able to take an overview of local authority spending did not come about under the present Government. Indeed, it was one of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues in government who told local authorities in 1976 that the party was over because they were overspending. There are still local authorities in Scotland which intend to spend more in real terms than they were spending in 1979. The Government have an interest in ensuring that that expenditure is properly restrained.

It is interesting to note that those who oppose rate reform have no thought-out alternative to put in its place.

Only the Government have been prepared to grasp the nettle to get rid of the present totally discredited rating system.

When my hon. Friend meets representative of COSLA, will he take the opportunity to discuss with them the question of increasing employment through the Prime Minister's decision to clear the streets of litter? When he discusses that question, will he actively promote further jobs in urban areas in order to ensure that the streets of Scotland are kept clean?

Obviously we shall want to examine closely the proposals that are being made for the clearing of litter south of the border to see how they can be used in Scotland. The collection and disposal of rubbish and litter are, in my view, not necessarily best done by local authorities. Indeed, we have encouraged local authorities over a long period to put out to tender those services to see whether they can be more efficiently and better done.

Will the Minister recognise, whether COSLA makes the point to him or not, that there is real concern that the introduction of a poll tax will unfairly affect residents in rural areas? Will he take that concern on board and recognise that rural authorities will need more resources to maintain services, given that the Government refuse to set up a rural development fund?

If the hon. Gentleman were to consider the indicative figures that we put out at the time of the publication of the Green Paper as to the likely levels of community charge, he would find that it is precisely in rural areas that those charges are likely to be lowest.