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with the settlement, which would have provided for any rate increase to be below the level of inflation had the council rated this year for the full costs of its budgeted expenditure and decided to keep its expenditure at around the same level next year. It is not for me to comment on the council's reasons for increasing expenditure so rapidly in recent years, so that it has moved from being 5 per cent. below GRE to 8 per cent. above. Nor can I say for certain why it has budgeted to use such large amounts of funds and reserves in recent years when, I presume, it must have been aware that this would eventually lead to significant rate increases unless it addressed the root cause--and that, as I trust I have made clear, is its spending. I am certain that hon. Members will agree there can be no real justification for an expenditure increase of over 27 per cent. in the last two years.

We have heard tonight a tale of a council attempting to hide its true spending policies from its ratepayers and electorate, but the truth will out. If Sandwell's rates go up, that is because it has spent up. Nothing I have heard tonight should persuade anyone to the contrary.

What I have heard tonight from the hon. Gentleman is that Sandwell council is determined efficiently and effectively to provide services. I hope that it will take advantage of the competitive tendering and contracting out to raise the savings that the Audit Commission has made clear--

The Motion having been made after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Madam Deputy Speaker-- adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order. Adjourned at four minutes to Eleven o'clock.

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