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Mr. Raynsford: I am happy to look into that. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that I do not at present have all the explanations of all the settlements for all authorities. He is right that there were generally very large increases for district councils last year, but that the three councils in his area to which he referred had relatively modest increases. The floor that is in place again this year will protect those authorities and guarantee them increases of at least 2.2 per cent. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be pleased, as I am, that Northumberland county council has a particularly good settlement this year—a 6.2 per cent. increase. I shall look into the issue relating to those district and borough councils, and write to him about the matter.

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his continuing success in bearing down on ring-fencing in local government spending and on the success of his discussions with other Departments on the reducing of pressures—in particular, the collection of rubbish through non-implementation of the landfill trading scheme. However, does my right hon. Friend accept that that deferral will coincide with a projected trebling of the landfill tax escalator next year, so that there will be a combination of pressure and a ring-fenced sum of money from local authorities going in that direction? Is his Department looking positively at how local authorities might be able to manage that change, and has that been reflected in this year's settlement?

Mr. Raynsford: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks, and I assure him that we shall continue to do all that we can to bear down on unnecessary ring-fencing and to remove any unfunded pressures from local authorities. My hon. Friend highlighted the changes relating to waste management. The postponement of the landfill allowance trading scheme is simply a postponement; it is not a cancellation. We are putting the scheme back by one year, to allow local authorities more opportunity to prepare and so that they can avoid meeting additional costs that will probably be in the order of £10 million this year. Together with my colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, we are keen that authorities should have the means to achieve the step change that is necessary in waste management to meet our objectives to reduce the use of, and dependence on, landfill and to ensure more sustainable waste disposal systems.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Last year, Derbyshire Dales district council got a very small increase. Most Derbyshire district councils received in

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excess of £500,000. Derbyshire Dales got an increase of £32,000. What will be the increase for Derbyshire Dales this year?

Mr. Raynsford: The three authorities in the area that the hon. Gentleman represents are Derbyshire county council, which has an increase of 6 per cent.; Derbyshire Dales, which has an increase of 2.2 per cent.—the floor; and Amber Valley, which has a similar increase. Both of the latter councils are protected by the floor, and his county council has a good settlement.

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): I welcome the increase in formula grant of almost 6 per cent. for the people of Birmingham. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the real challenge now is to spend the money wisely, that all local authorities must recognise that they have a duty to provide cost-effective and efficient services and that wage inflation, in particular at the higher grades, without mass productivity means less money for services and, inevitably, higher council tax levels?

Mr. Raynsford: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I, too, am delighted that Birmingham city council will receive a grant increase of 5.9 per cent., following a good settlement of 8 per cent. last year. Birmingham will also benefit from £112 million in special and specific grants designed to help that council meet its responsibilities. As he knows only too well, it has substantial deprivation problems within its boundaries. I wholeheartedly agree that, given a good settlement of that nature, it should be possible for the city council to continue to make progress in improving service delivery and to impose reasonable increases in council tax on Birmingham residents.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): Does the Minister agree that the only winner in this miserable settlement is the Treasury? As far as the hard-pressed taxpayers of Wiltshire and Salisbury are concerned, this annual charade is bringing both central and local government into disrepute. It does not really matter whether one has rates, poll tax, council tax or local income tax, so long as the Government refuse to acknowledge the need for a fair contract between them and taxpayers at local level showing where the burden falls, rather than the present system under which duties are imposed that local authorities have to meet when they have little freedom of movement. Until a new system introduces such fairness, we shall continue to have an annual charade in which people have little faith.

Mr. Raynsford: The only charade that I see is the extraordinary spectacle of former Ministers in a Government who could offer increases of only about 1 per cent. at best complaining about increases that would have been beyond those authorities' wildest dreams when that Government were in power. That is a bit rich coming from the hon. Gentleman, given that last year Wiltshire had the largest grant increase of any county, 8.9 per cent., and will this year receive a further 5.9 per cent. increase—on the ceiling. Those are very good increases—far beyond what Wiltshire would have had from the Government whom the hon. Gentleman represented.

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Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): Not only the Liberal Democrats but the Tories seem to believe that money grows on trees, especially when a Labour Government are in power. Last year, under the Tory council, East Sussex had a 20 per cent. increase in council tax, which is wholly unacceptable. At what level will my right hon. Friend tell East Sussex Tories that enough is enough?

Mr. Raynsford: I have made it clear in my remarks to local government representatives at various conferences recently, and I make it clear again today, that we take a dim view of authorities that increase their council tax by more than is absolutely necessary to maintain good quality services. We expect them to do much better than the very large increases that a number, including East Sussex, imposed last year. East Sussex has a grant increase of 4.5 per cent. in this settlement, which is a significant increase on last year's settlement. I hope that it will use it prudently. It also has about £32 million in special and specific grant, some of which I hope is destined for my hon. Friend's constituency, which has special problems in the county. I hope that East Sussex, which is improving its social services significantly—that is welcome—will continue to deliver and improve services, and will do so cost effectively with much-reduced demands in the coming year compared with last year.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): Will the Minister confirm that for those shire districts that have received the minimum floor of 2.2 per cent., the settlement is effectively a real-terms cut given the current rate of inflation? Does he also accept that wherever one puts the floors and ceilings for any authority, the amount of money that it ultimately deserves from the Government is largely determined by the grant formula itself? Surely the Government need to revise the new grant formula spending share that they have come up with so that it does not unfairly penalise those authorities in the home counties that are suffering because Labour has deliberately moved resources to assist its friends in the north.

Mr. Raynsford: I find it slightly odd that, given that Essex county council is receiving an increase of 5.5 per cent—an above-average increase—in a year when the overall increase is 4.7 per cent., the hon. Gentleman complains that money is going north. It is not. Essex is getting more than the national average. People in the north, including some of my hon. Friends, whose settlements are rather lower, have good reason to complain that money is going south.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): My right hon. Friend has already made it clear that there will be an amending order where census figures have been revised and, as he is aware, the city of Manchester has already had such a revision accepted. However, notwithstanding the amending orders, there is also a cumulative effect, from the ceilings in previous years and other factors, on the next year and succeeding years. Can my right hon. Friend give the House a guarantee that in census-affected local authorities such as Manchester every penny will be restored, not just one year's money?

Mr. Raynsford: I know that there have been special issues in Manchester relating to the census. I referred to

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them in answer to an earlier question, when I made it clear that we will be prepared to issue an amending report once the Office for National Statistics has completed its investigations. If its figures suggest that there should be increased population figures for certain authorities, we shall issue that report.

Manchester has a good settlement this year: an increase of 5.8 per cent. on top of last year's figure of 6.5 per cent. In addition to the overall settlement, £66.5 million of special grant is going to Manchester, to reflect the particular needs of the community. That is a good settlement and we shall continue to work closely with Manchester city council, which is doing very good work indeed to tackle the problems in its area, to ensure that it continues to improve services cost-effectively.

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