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Liverpool (Rate Support Grant)

Volume 113: debated on Wednesday 1 April 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what rate support grant is to be received by Liverpool city council in 1986–87; and what the comparable figure was for 1981–82 and 1983–84, in constant 1986–87 prices.

The figures in 1986–87 prices are £129.8 million for 1986–87, £154.1 million for 1981–82 and £141.1 million for 1983–84.

Is that not further evidence, if it were required, of the Government's attack on the city of Liverpool? Is it not time to call off the vendetta against the people of Liverpool, in which the Government have been engaged over the past six or seven years? Does the Secretary of State not realise that it is not councillors with whom he has political differences who suffer, but the homeless, who require homes, the old and the disabled, who require social services, and the council tenants, whose houses require urgent repairs? Is it not time that there was an adequate rate support grant for one of the greatest cities in this country?

I am surprised by that, because I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that Liverpool's share of rate support grant was 1·34 per cent. of the total in 1981–82, and last year it rose to 1·44 per cent. of the total, so Liverpool is in fact receiving a greater share of the rate support grant total.

Will my right hon. Friend remind the Opposition where rate support grant comes from? Does it emerge from the ground like daffodils in the spring or out of the sky like showers in April, or does it come from the taxpayer in villages, towns and cities throughout the country, most of which are run by councillors who are responsible, balance their budgets and show a great deal more consideration for their fellow taxpayers than do those in Liverpool, Manchester and many of the inner London boroughs?

As my hon. Friend raises the point, let me tell him that in 1986–87 Stockport received £171 per head in rate support grant, whereas Liverpool —[Interruption.]

Perhaps I can give the figures that I intended to give. In 1986–87, Liverpool received £264 per head in rate support grant. Stockport received £171 per head. Next year, in 1987–88, at the settlement assumption, Liverpool will receive £264 per head and Stockport £173 per head. I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell). The problems of Stockport are every bit as severe as the problems of Liverpool. That illustrates the point that I made to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), that Liverpool is getting a very good share of the rate support grant—indeed, a much bigger share than Stockport, where, I think he will agree, there are some serious problems, too.

Is it not invidious to start drawing comparisons between different areas? Does the Secretary of State not accept that the rate support grant system is fundamentally flawed, because it does not take into account major demographic changes? One third of the city of Liverpool's population have left in the past 20 years, one in four people are over retirement age, and there is the fastest growing group in the over-80s, one in five are unemployed, and there is one of the largest voluntary sectors of education anywhere in the country. With those major demographic changes and special circumstances, should the right hon. Gentleman not look again at the way in which Liverpool's rate is settled? If the district auditor comes in, and if the Audit Commission carries out a survey that highlights areas where the Secretary of State should assist, will the right hon. Gentleman agree to follow those recommendations?

It is precisely because of the factors that the hon. Gentleman mentioned that Liverpool's GRE gives it a higher rate support grant than that of many other authorities. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the additional factor of shrinking population. I receive strong representations from my hon. Friends who represent Berkshire to the effect that growing population is an equally severe problem for them. Every hon. Member has different views as to why his authority should have a greater share of the rate support grant, and those views are all reflected in the long, almost continuous negotiations on GRE, which have resulted in Liverpool getting not 1·34 per cent. of the total but 1·44 per cent. of the total, a growing proportion, in recognition of those very problems.

I call Mr. Dickens. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman that this question is about Liverpool.

Has the Secretary of State read the remarks by the former deputy leader of Liverpool council, who stated that the abolition of the Merseyside county council and bus deregulation had saved an enormous amount of money? Does my right hon. Friend believe that the Government are reaching those parts that the Opposition have failed to reach?

I read that a sum of £10 million had been saved for Liverpool as a result of those two policies. Indeed, I have read that sums of great magnitude have been saved through the abolition of the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils and as a result of the Transport Act 1985. I am only waiting for the letters of thanks from the councils that opposed both those measures. I believe that due thanks are now in order here for to the very large sums that councils have been saved.

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of what two of his predecessors said about the problems on Merseyside and Liverpool? The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) came up with proposals to try to help the area, but they were cut back by the Cabinet of the day. Also, another of the Secretary of State's hon. Friends said when he came to Liverpool that he had never seen such problems in relation to housing anywhere in Europe. Is it not about time that the Secretary of State and his hon. Friends recognised that the problems in Liverpool have arisen because of the decline of the port, which is no fault of the people of Liverpool? That has happened because we are on the wrong side of the country and because we entered the European Common Market. Is it not time—

Is it not time that Conservative Members recognised the real problems of the city, the high level of unemployment, the great problems with housing and the other problems that go with that, and began at last to deal with those problems on a serious basis instead of producing the nonsense that we hear from the Conservative Benches—

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman should try to apply for an adjournment debate on this subject. I know that this subject is of grave concern to the hon. Gentleman, but he is taking a long time. We have reached only Question 5.

With due respect, Mr. Speaker, it is not a joke that my people in my part of the world are unemployed and suffering. It is about time that the Government began to look at the real problems instead of listening to the nonsense from the Tory Back Benches.

It is a pity, when so much of what the hon. Gentleman says is justified —there are indeed real problems in Liverpool —that those problems were compounded by Militants and by the Labour-controlled council. I have been reading the accounts by Mr. Hamilton of the gross mismanagement of the city by the hon. Gentleman's friends. I can only say that the people of Liverpool now have an opportunity to elect a council which will not behave like the previous council.

People in Liverpool will have to live with the consequences of whatever council they elect. That is the nature of local democracy, and the hon. Gentleman must abide by that.

Order. May I now appeal to the House for brief questions so that we may make progress? We have reached only question 6. Mr. John Cartwright, No. 6.