I beg your pardon, Mr Speaker, but I have not the remotest idea where I am.
So I am.
The Government announced in the spending review that we intend to make £650 million per annum available for the next four years to help principal local authorities, including police and fire authorities, deliver a council tax freeze in England in 2011-12. If an authority increases its basic rate of council tax by any amount, it will not be eligible for the freeze grant.
Now that the Secretary of State is back with us, may I thank him for that answer? Under Labour, since 1997 the council tax for the average home in Reading rose by 116%. This year, the new Conservative-led coalition will freeze council tax for the first time ever. On the day that the Leader of the Opposition talks of a cost of living crisis as standing up for families in the middle, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Labour party should begin by apologising for clobbering families in Reading—
The Secretary of State seems to have delayed the inquiry into the localisation of business rates. If it went ahead, Westminster would gain £1 billion and Durham would lose £80 million. What is he going to do to mitigate that, or is that in fact his intention?
Of course, there is going to be considerable equalisation, but it seems to me that:
“Local business concerns are critical to good local government. There are sound democratic reasons why, in principle, the business rate should be set locally, not nationally.”
That expresses the point best, and I would have thought there would be consensus on it right across the Chamber as, after all, those are the very words of the Labour party’s 1997 manifesto.