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5 Dec 2002 : Column 1080—continued

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): I welcome the settlement on behalf of my constituents—it is the best that my local authority has ever received. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his work in producing a fairer and simpler system. We can make representations on the new system until 14 January, but does that also apply to the allocation of neighbourhood renewal funds? Does my right hon. Friend accept that the sharp and arbitrary cut-off point for the allocation of neighbourhood renewal funds works against some of the smaller

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metropolitan districts, and others with high levels of deprivation, but where such deprivation does not extend right across several wards?

Mr. Raynsford: I very much appreciate my hon. Friend's extremely kind remarks. I am sure that he and his constituents are delighted at the 8.2 per cent. increase in Bury which is, as he says, the best settlement that it has ever received. I am delighted for him.The Minister for Social Exclusion and Deputy Minister for Women has responsibility for neighbourhood renewal and is holding further consultations about the formulae used to assess eligibility. I cannot promise my hon. Friend more than that, but I am sure that if he talks to my hon. Friend she will be more than receptive to any representations that he would like to make.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): During the past few months, the Minister has gone out of his way to consult Members of Parliament and others. He knows that, in an Adjournment debate, I raised the local government finance formula for Norfolk. The Minister will reply now by giving me the headline figures for Norfolk and—in headline terms—they will look reasonably good. However, leaving that aside—as the Prime Minister would say—can the Minister explain to Norfolk taxpayers how that headline figure will equate to all the extra costs that have been loaded on to Norfolk county council during the past two or three years? Next year national insurance will cost us about £600,000. Most of any increase will be taken away, according to his own Government's figures. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to meet me and a delegation of MPs from Norfolk to discuss the formula shortly?

Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Gentleman will be aware from correspondence in the local press that there has been a lot of speculation in Norfolk about alleged cuts as a result of the settlement—[Hon. Members: XScaremongering".] I had to write to point out that it was indeed scaremongering. I am pleased to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that Norfolk county council receives an increase of 6.3 per cent., that Breckland district council receives an increase of 12.7 per cent., and that Broadland district council receives an increase of 12.5 per cent. I should be happy to receive a delegation of the hon. Gentleman and other Members—they will be able to tell me how they intend to spend the extra money that we are giving them.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): Conservative and Labour Staffordshire Members who are absent are hosting a lunch for the distinguished and much respected county clerk, Mr. Bernard Price, who is retiring next year. I know that those Members would have liked to be in the Chamber, especially my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack).

May I add my words of praise to the Minister personally for the great amount of time that he has taken over the consultation for the Green Paper and in holding seminars for Members? Will he confirm that responses from residents in the authorities of the F40 group were prominent among those to both the Green Paper and the consultation? Will he explain whether the focus on the basic allowance approach benefits F40

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authorities? It certainly appears that Staffordshire will benefit, so does he agree that the new focus will see off the scaremongers who said that the new system would be no better for Staffordshire than the old one?

Mr. Raynsford: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks about the consultation and the efforts that we made to ensure that everyone was as familiar as possible with the way in which we were approaching the process. I am sure that he is delighted with the results for his authority: Staffordshire county council receives an increase of 7.1 per cent. and South Staffordshire district council receives an increase of 13 per cent. Those results are extremely good.

My hon. Friend has been an assiduous campaigner on behalf of the F40 group, and the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) met delegations from F40 led by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford on several occasions during the consultation process. He will be pleased to know that overall, the F40 authorities receive an increase of 6.8 per cent.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam): I thank the Minister for meeting a delegation from the London borough of Sutton during the consultation on the formula review, which appears to have been helpful as regards today's settlement. However, will the Minister tell us whether the scaling-back figures are included in the exemplifications that have been provided for Members? If not, what does that imply for my local authority?

Can the Minister tell us how the £100 million allocated to be paid back to the NHS—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I asked for one question only.

Mr. Raynsford: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for acknowledging the attention that we gave to his representations and I am sure that he is as delighted as his constituents will be that Sutton has received 7 per cent., a good increase. He asked about the scaling factor; he will know that that was applied before these figures were announced. There is no scaling back on the figures announced. It is the process involved in determining the floors and ceilings to ensure that there is a zero sum process to support the floors through both the ceiling and the scaling factor.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North): My right hon. Friend will be aware that London local authorities entered into this process with some scepticism and there will be many, such as Brent and Tower Hamlets, that are pleased with a settlement that reflects their high costs and levels of deprivation. My authorities, the Conservative boroughs of Westminster and of Kensington and Chelsea, have spent recent months advising their residents that they can expect cuts of up to £40 million. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that they will receive increases of between £4 million and £7 million, and that the cuts that Westminster proposes—such as the £250,000 play charges for the poorest parents in the borough—are wholly unnecessary?

Mr. Raynsford: There is no justification for scaremongering—no more in Kensington and

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Westminster than in other parts of the country. We have always said that we were seeking a fair settlement and that we would ensure that no council faced losses. As we have put a floor in place, Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster, are protected from the consequences of the census data that showed a lower population than had been previously expected. Those factors apply in those authorities as well as in the neighbouring authority of Hammersmith and Fulham, to which I have referred. I am sure that my hon. Friend and her local residents will be relieved that we have a floor in place; otherwise, there would have been a serious consequence from the adoption of the most up-to-date census data.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): I seek a direct answer to my question, not a pre-prepared one. Is it still the Minister's intention to sequestrate the capital receipts of debt-free councils and redistribute them, such as the receipts of East Devon district council in my constituency, which has benefited the council taxpayer by keeping taxes low and providing good services and is now to be penalised for that good stewardship? It is, of course, a Conservative-controlled council.

Mr. Raynsford: I am sorry that the hon. Lady has not recognised the extremely generous settlement that we have given to her authority. Not surprisingly, she has not mentioned that Mid Devon will get an increase of 12.5 per cent. We have always taken account of the availability of capital receipts on the principle that it is right that when resources that have been paid for by central Government—housing stock, predominantly—are realised through sale, there should be a contribution to the wider national housing scene. That has always been the case. We are proposing changes relating to debt-free authorities that, as a result of current arrangements, would not be subject to that regime and would get an unfair advantage if that were not changed. That will be part of the legislation going through the House, which the hon. Lady will be able to debate in due course.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead): May I thank my right hon. Friend for the statement, and for the way in which he involved people in the long consultation process? Birkenhead has one area with the highest proportion of poor children anywhere in the country. What increase in taxpayers' resources will be going to Wirral council to help provide better services to some of the poorest people in the country?

Mr. Raynsford: I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind words. I am sure that he will be delighted that Wirral will receive an increase of 7.7 per cent., which is equivalent to £18.4 million of additional grant. In addition, the authority will be receiving £5 million in neighbourhood renewal funding. These are substantial increases being made available to meet the needs of his deprived community, and I am sure that he will welcome that.

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