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Mr. Gummer: The standard spending assessments are worked out as clearly as possible according to criteria that we have discussed long and loud with local authorities. If St. Helens spent as far below its SSA as Westminster, it would have an even lower council tax. It has a high council tax because it is a high spender. St. Helens should learn from Westminster's efficiency. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) is laughing. He wants to laugh because he does not want us to be reminded of the efficiency of his borough of Camden. Camden has the second highest external debt per capita in the country. Its total debt has increased by 14 per cent. in the past five years. A recent district auditor's first report revealed that Camden had a debt of £50 million rather than a surplus of £18 million, which its internal addition had suggested. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras has the effrontery to giggle despite representing a Labour- controlled authority with such a record.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras): The Secretary of State talks about Camden having a £50 million debt. Will he refer to his Department's documents rather than articles in The Daily Telegraph ? Will he confirm that Camden is in dispute with him and his officials about debts owed to it of £38 million on the housing revenue account because it says that it is not being treated in the same way as other councils? Will he confirm that Camden has commenced legal proceedings against the Department but has stayed them until Ministers have had an opportunity to respond?

Mr. Gummer: I will confirm that in 1991 Camden forgot a loan repayment of more than £24 million, which meant that, in many cases, rents rose by a third. I shall quote from someone who is not noted in his professional life for doing other than supporting a range of Labour authorities. I shall do so although I deprecate some of the attacks made on people by turning their perfectly proper professional behaviour into a political issue. Andrew Arden said:

"the standards applicable to dealing in vast sums of money have been found wanting; it is as if pockets of what I can only describe of entrenched amateurism have been allowed to prevail."

Camden could save at least £2 million every year if its staff working hours were increased to the local government norm. Camden's members services unit,

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which is open only to Labour members of Camden council, costs £143, 000 a year. For every £5 spent on housing repairs in Camden, £1 is lost in administrative costs. That compares to an average of 30p in inner-London boroughs as a whole, and that average is pushed up by authorities such as Camden. Just in case it has been missed, I should say that Camden's grant to the Camden lesbian centre in 1994-95 will be £44,228. No wonder the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras giggles. The only people in Camden who do not giggle are those who have to pay the bill for such incompetence. Those who think that the Labour party would make a Government should remember what has happened to Camden under Labour's control.

Mr. Dobson: Will the Secretary of State confirm that he and his officials are in dispute with the borough of Camden about whether the Department owes Camden £38 million?

Mr. Gummer: When the hon. Gentleman confirms publicly each and every one of the facts--not disputes--that I have just given and dissociates himself from his council, I will be happy to look at his point.

Several hon. Members rose --

Mr. Gummer: I must get on. There is an equal amount of objection on both sides of the Chamber.

I have given only one or two examples culled at random from what could have been a much larger list. We can do without the ritual parade every time we ask authorities to take the same tough decisions on their costs as the Government are taking and that the private sector always has taken. During the recession, private companies made cuts and they have now emerged leaner and fitter to lead Britain into a new export-led recovery.

Local government must ensure that it reduces overmanning, takes out tiers of management and uses contracting out as a means of better service delivery. Many efficient authorities are already taking such measures and, in my criticisms of particular authorities, I hope that local government in general will recognise that I honour the many local authority officers and members who have done increasingly well in meeting the needs of their areas in a lean and fit way.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his excellent speech so far. Does he share my disgust and fury at the antics of Liberal-controlled Devon county council? It is spreading terror among 300 teaching staff by telling them that they are all to be sacked because of the Government's rate settlement and it is making old people fear that they will be put out on the street in the cold. In fact--I should like the Secretary of State to confirm this--the amount that Devon will receive next year is more than this year and the education grant is twice as high as the national average. Will he tell Devon county council that it should get rid of some of its 30,000 staff. It has more staff than the entire bureaucracy of Brussels. Will he ensure that it does something--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I was sincere when I said that interventions should be under a minute.

Mr. Gummer: The increase in Devon's education SSA is about twice as high as the average for the counties. Its staff numbers have increased by more than 2 per cent. in

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one year. A county in that position should not frighten people. It should look at its own internal arrangements and find ways of saving money so that it can be spent on the front line--on those who really need it.

It is important to take this seriously. I have with me the telephone directory of Cornwall county council--I am not just dealing with inner London. It is a pretty big list and its tone sums up what we need to look at carefully. For example, on the page that says, "Chief Executives Office" it lists numbers for the chief executive, assistant chief executive, assistant chief executive and a third assistant chief executive. I then see two secretarial staff, five support staff, three press and public relations staff--


Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I thought that it was impolite to point.

Mr. Gummer: I think that Opposition Members may have been trying to ensure that I address the Chair directly. I apologise if I did not do so. It enables me to say directly to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there are also five members of staff whose only job is to deal with the local government review and to send out various documents to frighten people about what might happen if they were to lost control of Cornwall. Many local authorities have spent large sums of money advertising themselves.

I have to be careful because another case from Cleveland is now in the courts. The House has passed legislation and debated its results yet some authorities have spent vast sums of ratepayers' money not only on advertising their superiority over others but on frightening people against possible changes. They then fight in the courts even beyond the point at which, when the judgment is read, anyone spending his own money would feel that the case against him had been proven. Several hon. Members rose --

Mr. Gummer: I give way to the hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien), who rose first.

Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his courtesy in giving way. He will be aware that Warwickshire recently received a very good auditors' report and that the only time that it has been poll tax capped recently was when it was under Conservative control. However, parents in Warwickshire are facing larger classes for their children and the sacking of 200 teachers in the county. This issue has united Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors in condemning the Government for the way in which they have calculated the SSA. Warwickshire spends 9 per cent. more on education than allowed for in the Government's education SSA. If it is to comply with the Government's requirements, Warwickshire will have to cut £10 million from its education budget. That is not acceptable. What is the Secretary of State's message to the angry parents of Warwickshire who do not want larger classes or a decline in education standards?

Mr. Gummer: Whatever Warwickshire councillors say, they have not been able to convince any other county that the methodology is wrong and that Warwickshire should have a special arrangement. The hon. Gentleman is saying that because Warwickshire has not found a way to deal with these matters as

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effectively as other counties it should have a special arrangement. The system does not allow for that--perfectly properly--whether Warwickshire is run by the Conservatives, the Liberals or Labour. Were it to do so, there would be no objectivity.

I know Warwickshire and I know many of the people who have come to put their case to me. I believe that Warwickshire will need to examine its spending pattern carefully. It needs to get its priorities right and aim money where it is most needed. Many counties are providing extremely good education without any more resources than those that Warwickshire has.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster): Is my right hon. Friend aware that Lancashire has 13 per cent. surplus places in its secondary schools, many of which are in Labour areas so the county council is scared stiff to touch them? However, were it to remove them, there would be more money to spend on other schools. Moreover, Lancashire spends £93 more for a resident in a county home than for one in a private home. No one wishes the county homes to close but we can ask that they should be as efficiently run as private sector homes. If they were, there would be a cool £10.8 million to spend on schools, home care services or some other purpose.

Mr. Gummer: My hon. Friend has been patient in trying to intervene. Lancashire has one of the highest proportions of staff per head in England, which suggests that there are ways for it to make improvements in addition to those that she has suggested. It is very easy for county councils and district councils to tell the electorate that they can do nothing but cut the education budget or any other services of great importance. It is important for the House to remind people that if the priorities are right, if money is put where it is most needed and if central spending is reduced, in most cases substantial savings can be found.

Several hon. Members rose --

Mr. Gummer: I shall give way in a moment to my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth). The areas where the difficulties are greatest are those where there has been a tradition of prudence and care and where councils feel that they are coming to the end of what they can do. I have examined those areas particularly carefully, but very few of those with a tradition of prudence and care are represented by the Labour party.

Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon): Warwickshire is asking not for special treatment but for a fair deal. Our frustration is that year after year after year our representations appear to be ignored. It is no surprise that in a zero-sum game other local authorities are not interested in easing Warwickshire's position. If we care about the quality of our democracy, we should be strengthening the independence and scope of elected local government for which a strong mechanism of accountability now exists through the council tax. Does my right hon. Friend agree that our future quality of life, as well as our economic competitiveness, depends to a large extent on whether we invest in our schools? I

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therefore very much regret the Government's proposals for capping and SSAs--certainly as they bite in Warwickshire-- which run counter to these purposes.

Mr. Gummer: I agree that education is at the heart of the nation's needs. That is why we have increased spending per pupil by nearly 50 per cent. in real terms since 1979. The difficulty, however, is that if the total spending is part of the total assessment of Government spending, when one local authority spends significantly in excess of what is available to other local authorities, it has a direct effect on us all because of its playback into the nation's economy. Other honourable Members have to take into account the fact that Warwickshire is spending 4 per cent. above its SSA on education. It will have an increase of 1.2 per cent., which is above the average for all counties. I was concerned about Warwickshire's claim, which is based not on the particularity of Warwickshire but on the belief that the way in which the system works does not give adequate representation to factors that might colour our assessment. Because of that, I shall look closely with the local authority associations at Warwickshire's concerns next year. I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon and they lead me back to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills). One or two other authorities have believed consistently that the mechanisms seem to have failed their particular problems, and I shall reconsider their cases carefully.

Several hon. Members rose --

Mr. Gummer: I must get on, but I shall give way first to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King).

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater): Is not my right hon. Friend right to say that every one of us has concerns about the current methodology? The right way to decide next year's determination is with local authority associations and the silliest way is to take the advice of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who said that this was an extremely important debate but who has not even bothered to turn up. He was encouraging some Somerset Members of Parliament to vote against the motion. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that were the House not to approve it, there would be no funds available for local government and no ability to pay and local authorities would not be able to make a rate determination or issue demands? Would not that cost the whole of local government a considerable sum of money?

Mr. Gummer: I confirm all that my right hon. Friend says. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) is not here. I had thought, from all the letters that he had written to Members of Parliament of his own party and others, that he may have found it possible to come to this important debate. Is the matter important only in his constituency and not in the House?

I wonder whether the right hon. Member for Yeovil has noticed that if there was a redetermination, it would be unlikely that Somerset would have benefited more. Indeed, the likelihood would have been that other counties would have noticed that Somerset had received a 2.5 per cent. increase in its education standard spending assessment, which is well over twice the county average; that in personal social services, it had a 2 per cent.

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increase, which is considerably more than the county average; and that in other services it had a 4.6 per cent. increase.

It appears to me that in all the measurements, Somerset has done significantly better than many other counties. Yet the right hon. Member for Yeovil has rushed immediately to frighten people. The attempt by Liberal Democrats to frighten people as part and parcel of their party- politicking is the worst aspect of a party which has little to commend itself in general.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill): I will not enter into the argument in which the right hon. Gentleman has just engaged. May I invite him back to the subject of north-west England for a moment? He will consider, as I do, that there is plenty of scope for savings in cities such as Liverpool and that there is certainly scope for greater efficiency. However, does not he also recognise that the formula and the way in which it has been calculated is a great cause of concern? After all, if the European Union grants a city such as Liverpool objective 1 status, it is slightly bizarre that the city should be a long way down the league table of local authorities as listed for deprivation. Therefore, will he specifically look at its SSA for social services and the need of children? He will have received representations this year and last, and I hope that he will look at those seriously because children are at risk and will suffer deeply if that specific aspect is not addressed.

Mr. Gummer: I have, of course, looked very carefully at what the hon. Gentleman has said. I tried to look across to see whether there was something about the new method which was deleterious to Liverpool, for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman has outlined. As far as one can compare the last years of the previous system before 1979 and the years since, the gap between what Liverpool gained with what the authorities which are often compared with it gained was significantly larger. So that problem has been delineated before.

There are difficulties in places where the population is falling, for example. I have looked at the matter carefully. Many of the things that we have taken into account this time have been helpful. I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree that the use of unemployment as one of the elements to consider has been helpful. That is something for which the associations asked and which was denied them by previous Governments. I am pleased that we have brought in that element. I shall look again, but, after all, Liverpool is third in the north-west as I understand it. It has significant resources, but I shall be happy to look specifically at the points that the hon. Gentleman makes.

Several hon. Members rose --

Mr. Gummer: I must continue for a moment. I shall allow hon. Members to intervene, but another paragraph would be helpful. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) has reminded us that we have to strike a balance between the proper responsibility of central Government to the economy of the country as a whole, including the control of inflation, and the proper duty of local government to decide how much it wants to spend to meet local needs. That is the knotty problem on which I tried to help my hon. Friends and hon. Members who represent Warwickshire.

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Before I move on from aggregate spending figures, let me say a word about the total provision for education and personal social services, on which hon. Members have raised points. Provision for spending on education is set to rise by 1.1 per cent. That comes on top of a 2.4 per cent. increase for 1994-95. In real terms, as I have said, spending per pupil has risen by almost 50 per cent. since 1979. It is remarkable that that has happened. It would be wrong to ignore it. It is against that background that we have fixed the figures for this year.

It will be up to local education authorities and schools to deploy their resources to maximum effect to give priority to front-line services. If I had had the opportunity earlier, I would have made the point about the tone of the Cornwall telephone directory. The proportion of people who are admitted to be in administration--clerks and the like--as compared with people out in the field is on a scale which no private industry could support.

Sir David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the difficulties in Bedfordshire. Will he confirm that it is utterly untrue to say that central Government has ordered Bedfordshire to make a 4 per cent. cut in school budgets throughout the county? That is absolutely mischievous and misleading and will he condemn it?

Mr. Gummer: Not only is it absolutely untrue, but I am afraid that it is typical of the thought process of authorities not uninfluenced by the Liberal Democrats. I can sum up the thought process in the words of a Liberal opponent of mine--he was perfectly reasonable in every other way-- who, when I asked why he had put out a leaflet which he knew was utterly untrue, said, "Well, all's fair in politics, isn't it?" That is the sadness of local authorities which put out documents which they know to be untrue. I must say that the Labour party has a much better reputation for that than the Liberal Democrats, whose idea of truth is very different from what we find in the rest of the political scene.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): In response to the comments that the Secretary of State has just made, may I say that I, too, deprecate anybody who puts out a document containing information that he knows to be incorrect. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, notwithstanding all the comments that he has made about the increases in education spending since 1979, the standard spending assessments per pupil are to be reduced this coming year compared with last year? Yes or no?

Mr. Gummer: The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the total amount of money available for a local authority increases. If a local education authority decided that it should spend less on education or more on administration, it would spend less per pupil. But there is no reason why the hon. Gentleman's local authority or any other authority could not spend more on pupils and less on administration. It is difficult to understand how the hon. Gentleman can condemn the practice in general when the Liberal Democrats do it on every occasion. I remember what they did in Tower Hamlets; and they should still be hanging their heads in shame.

Mr. Mark Robinson (Somerton and Frome): My right hon. Friend may like to know that the Liberal Democratic

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party has been circulating petitions in my constituency which talk about massive cuts by central Government on Somerset spending.

Mr. Gummer: I have read out the figures. There can be no such statement. The facts are that Somerset's SSA has gone up by much more than the county average for England. It cannot be presented as a cut, because it is an increase. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bath will wish immediately to renew communications with the public. In it, I hope that he will not only put right the fact that Somerset's SSA is not being cut, but ensure that no resident of Somerset misses the fact that the number of Somerset staff has increased by 3.4 per cent. in a year.

No private company could have managed such an increase while staying in business. The hon. Member for Bath should be ashamed of what Somerset Liberal Democrats have done and of the non-existence of the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who has made such a fuss. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is afraid.

Mr. Don Foster rose --

Mr. Gummer: If the leader of the Liberal Democrats cares to come to the House, I shall give way to him so that he can explain why he has written to members of my party to ask them to vote for him when he has not even bothered to turn up for the debate. I am ashamed of the right hon. Gentleman.

We have heard much about the funding of the community care reforms over the past few months. I believe that the figures speak for themselves.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich): Yes, they do.

Mr. Gummer: The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) accepts that. Next year, local authorities will have £1.8 billion in recognition of their new responsibilities. That is an increase of 44 per cent. over the figure for the current year. As I have said, in 1995-96 there will be a ring-fenced grant totalling £648 million for authorities to spend on community care-- [Interruption.] Opposition Members may feel that that information is to be yawned at, but most of the people involved in community care know that we have carried through our determination to enhance the powers and responsibilities of local authorities by giving them the new duties and the means to carry them through.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Will the Secretary of State give way on that point?

Mr. Gummer: No.

As I have said, total standard spending for England will increase by 2 per cent. next year.

Mr. Clelland rose --

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) rose --

Mr. Gummer: I will give way to the hon. Member for Newham, North- West (Mr. Banks).

Mr. Banks: I am grateful to the Secretary of State. It seems that the Government are running rather scared from the west country woolly hats at the moment. I felt quite sorry for the Secretary of State earlier when he looked like a Christian being thrown to the lions. However, if he

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is going to start cherry-picking among local authorities, my sympathy will run out. What has he got to say about Westminster? He has praised that council so far, but according to the Evening Standard tonight, the council did not collect £30 million in service charges in respect of flats and properties that it had sold. What has the Secretary of State got to say about that in terms of the misappropriation of resources?

Mr. Gummer: What I say about the figures that I have given is that I take them from the published figures and the facts as set out by the auditors. As far as I understand it, the figure referred to by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West emanates largely from the Labour party in Westminster. I would want to look more carefully at the figures before I confirmed or denied what the hon. Gentleman has said.

However, I can tell the hon. Member for Newham, North-West that, no matter what party it comes from, if there is evidence of impropriety or improper behaviour I would condemn it. I only wish that that was a more general view on both sides of the House.

We are increasing aggregate external finance at a lower rate than total standard spending because we believe that it is right that local taxpayers should fund a slightly higher proportion of the cost of local services. However, the level of council tax is a decision for each authority and will depend--

Mr. Clelland: Will the Secretary of State give way on that point?

Mr. Gummer: The hon. Gentleman has asked me to give way "on that point" on several occasions. I want to make more progress and more than three lines of my speech would be reasonable.

The level of council tax is a decision for each authority and it will depend on the level of service that councils choose to provide, the improvements that they can make to efficiency and effectiveness and how well they can collect what they are owed. I am therefore not about to start predicting council tax levels.

I will not make such predictions because I have tried to learn from the Labour party. Last year-- [Interruption.] The Opposition Front Bench spokesman should not make comments from a sedentary position because I am going to tell him what I have learnt. Last year, Labour predicted that-- [Interruption.] The point may be short, but it is worth listening to. Last year, the Labour party predicted that council taxes would rise by 6 per cent. They actually increased by only 2.2 per cent. The Labour party was wrong.

Indeed, Labour was wrong just as, in three successive years, the former shadow Environment spokesman was wrong when he said that the number of teachers had fallen. He was only slightly wrong. He should have said that the number had risen. That is the difference. The trouble is that the Labour party constantly cries, "Fear!" and "Danger!"

Mr. Clelland: Will the Secretary of State give way on this point?

Mr. Gummer: I will certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman on this point.

Mr. Clelland: I am grateful to the Secretary of State. Is he aware that, under his criteria, the city of Newcastle

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upon Tyne will be forced to cut £5 million from its budget while, at the same time, reducing band D council tax by £70? Is he further aware that the local newspaper has conducted a survey of residents in the area which showed that, by a margin of 20:1, the people of Newcastle would prefer to keep the council tax at its present level and avoid any cuts? Why cannot the Secretary of State accommodate the electorate of Newcastle?

Mr. Gummer: The people of Newcastle have an authority which has consistently spent very highly. If it intends to take more from the population than is reasonable, that will have an effect on the total spending on local government in the nation. That has a real impact on the economy. There is no way in which Newcastle can avoid being part of the United Kingdom economy. We try to achieve a reasonable balance.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): My right hon. Friend referred to teaching numbers. Will he confirm that Devon county council increased its staff levels last year by 2.4 per cent., or 718 people? If it can increase its staff by that amount, and in view of the settlement that it is now receiving, will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is no reason why a single teacher should be dismissed in Devon?

Mr. Gummer: My hon. Friend is being too kind to his local authority. He should tell his authority to answer a simple question. Does it think that education is important and, if it thinks that it is, will it put its additional resources into education and reduce spending on the unnecessary extra staff which it has decided, under the new administration, to add to its payroll? Unless the authority can say yes to that, the people of Devon will receive the bad deal which they are being offered at the moment under the guise of blaming the Government. It is right that my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) should press that point strongly. Several hon. Members rose --

Mr. Gummer: I should come to a conclusion quickly. However, before I do so, I should warn the House that there will be attempts to suggest that the system is unfortunately not as it should be. The Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, will, now that he is so widely recognised as an expert on local government finance, put forward the view that the SSA system benefits Conservative-controlled councils rather than Labour-controlled councils.

Before the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras rises, I want to give the House the opportunity to take the following fact on board. Of the 50 councils with the highest SSA per head, only three are Conservative controlled-- [Interruption.] At any opportunity, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras suggests that we somehow fiddle the figures to help ourselves, but that is manifestly not true. The House is aware of the facts.

If hon. Members listen carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, they will no doubt hear him refer to phoney mathematics. The phoney mathematics involves comparing the outturn figures at the end of the year with the SSA additions for the beginning of the year. In all my time in the Department of the

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Environment and before that, I have not heard an Opposition Member make a speech on the subject in which the phrase "phoney mathematics" did not appear.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: In a moment.

I must warn the House that there will be another "phoney" reference and that is the reference to phoney facts. The Opposition spokesman will suggest that one does not get the same deal in St. Helens as one gets in Westminster. In fact, one gets a better deal. First, there are better services which are provided better and, secondly, if the councils spent at the same level, a higher proportion would be covered by the grant.

There is one fact that we will not hear in the speech of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras because, unfortunately, he has been unable to find it. Every local authority in the Association of County Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities was asked to provide examples of the way in which councils had to sack people--

Mr. Frank Dobson: Not by me.

Mr. Gummer: Ah, so those Labour-dominated authorities provided the information entirely of their own volition with no intention of passing the results to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras. I understand why they did not pass the results on. Having written to all the authorities asking for examples of the number of compulsory redundancies which they had to make as a result of the appalling policies of the Government, there was no reply. No examples could be found. The authorities could not manage to come up with the information. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras will not be able to give that fact, although he longed to do so. I hope that we shall look carefully at that matter.

Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East): Nottingham city council has tried to respond to what the Government have said in the past. In the past three years, it has saved £15 million. However, under the assessment, it would need an extra £3.3 million just to keep level with inflation. Savings were made in the past, and the Government tried to heap savings on top of them.

Mr. Gummer: Savings cannot be made in one period and then ignored for the rest. Nottingham is spending 8.8 per cent. above its standard spending assessment. As in any business, the programme of being more and more efficient has to take place. I know that matters are difficult in Nottingham city council, because it has a bad example in Nottinghamshire county council. Nottingham councillors recognise that, because it is part of the embarrassing relationship between those two bodies. If both tried to save, the citizens of Nottinghamshire would benefit immensely.

Several hon. Members rose --

Mr. Gummer: I must now refer to the distribution of grant. We have a system whose sole aim is to ensure that

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available resources are divided fairly, according to needs, so that each authority is placed on an equal footing. We try to work those out--

Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At the start of the debate you had to announce that a 10-minute limit will be imposed on hon. Members, with the exception of the Front-Bench spokesmen. The Secretary of State has spoken for an hour, and he has deliberately provoked interventions in order to prevent hon. Members from speaking. Do you deprecate that behaviour, Mr. Deputy Speaker? Can you offer us any protection from this deliberate filibuster?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The Chair observes that Members are honourable Members. Presumably, they are capable of controlling their bodies as to whether or not they rise to intervene. Many hon. Members have been rising to intervene. If hon. Members would resume their seats, the Secretary of State might come to a conclusion.

Mr. Gummer: It is a little harsh to say that I have been speaking for an hour. Several hon. Members have had an opportunity to put their points of view.

There are those who want more money for their local authority. The only way in which that can be done is either by taking money from other local authorities or by increasing the total amount. That is why we shall look with considerable care at the comments of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras. He must tell us, if he does not like the settlement, how much more he would spend, where it would come from, what taxes he would raise in order to deliver it, and whether the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) has given his permission for that statement. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give way to my right hon. and hon. Friends if they wish to remind him of that fact and, perhaps, ask again for his point of view.

To all councillors and hon. Members who ask, "Why does the system not give my authority more resources?", I say that, if we had a system which is as objective as we can work out with the local authority associations, it would not allow me to change the sum of the resources for an aggrieved authority or tilt that system toward a particular local council. I have seen that problem particularly when dealing with Newham, where there is an issue about the way in which spending is categorised between different groups of local authorities. I cannot make the point strongly enough that we can change the distribution methodology only when a different objective formula is justified. If the hon. Gentleman has some points that he would like to put into the formula, as his predecessors had, for they had several suggestions, I shall be very willing to consider them. Last year, we carried out a thorough review of the distribution methodology and incorporated many changes. We needed a period of stability thereafter. We have made some changes, particularly to accommodate the police arrangements. There is more up-to-date information on pupil numbers, which makes the methodology much more up to date, as many people would agree.

We have also had to make a change in the SSA for the fire service, to take account of calls to incidents such as road accidents, and to recognise that maritime authorities

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