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Local Authority Spending Assessments

Volume 175: debated on Wednesday 27 June 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many local authorities have made representations to his Department regarding their standard spending assessment.

A large number of local authorities have made representations about their standard spending assessments.

Does the Minister accept that if the standard spending assessment figures given to local authorities are too low, there will be serious implications for poll tax payers because that will force up the poll tax to a high level? Lancashire county council and many other county councils in the north-west, like councils throughout the country, have made representations about their SSAs. Does the Minister accept that when the Secretary of State meets local authority associations later this year he should not only discuss the matter but respond positively by ensuring that an increase in the figures next year so that poll tax levels can be reduced considerably?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State always responds positively to propositions. There is too much evidence that high-spending local authorities try to use SSAs as a scapegoat for their inefficiency and extravagance. Certainly, that is true of Burnley and Lancashire. In Burnley, the SSA is 17.5 per cent. higher than its grant-related expenditure equivalent last year, yet spending increased by 25 per cent. That shows that the high community charge in Burnley is fairly and squarely the responsibility of the socialist council and the socialist Lancashire county council.

Will my hon. Friend congratulate the citizens and local government officers in Calderdale on collecting the community charge at about the same rate they collected rates in the past? When he looks at SSAs will he take into account areas of special geographic difficulty, such as Calder Valley which has numerous roads which are often affected by bad winters and about which I have approached the Department year after year?

I shall convey my hon. Friend's congratulations to those responsible and I assure him that, as always, we shall listen to his representations carefully.

Does the Minister appreciate that if he does not tell us how many local authorities made representations, a great many of which were Conservative, we shall conclude that he cannot count, which is quite likely to be right? Can he also tell us the answers to the important questions of how many local authorities, both Conservative and Labour, have asked for their SSA to be reassessed because it is too low, and whether or not part of the changes that the Government make to the poll tax will include increasing SSAs to meet the requirements of Conservative and Labour local authorities.

The Government are more interested in the quality of representations than in their number. This year there has been a 10 per cent. increase in SSAs compared with the GRE assessments for last year. That is above the rate of inflation. The hon. Gentleman must face the fact that the much higher than expected community charges are due not to inadequate SSAs but to the high-spending policies of so many councils.