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1. The Bill shall be committed to a Standing Committee.
Proceedings in Standing Committee
2. Proceedings in the Standing Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 24th February 2004.
3. The Standing Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Consideration and Third Reading
4. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
6. Sessional Order B (programming committees) made on 28th June 2001 shall not apply to proceedings on consideration and Third Reading.
7. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further Message from the Lords) may be programmed.[Joan Ryan.]
(1) any expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State by virtue of the Act, and
(2) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable out of money so provided under any other enactment.[Joan Ryan.]
Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): The financial settlement for Southend borough council for the year 200405 is nothing short of a scandal. In fact, I would go further and say that the Government have behaved vindictively towards the council. I hope to charm the Minister into reflecting on what I have to say and into revising the figures.
When the Chancellor of the Exchequer trumpeted another £340 million for council tax payers, our borough treasurer worked out that Southend borough council's share would be £4,000. I am sure that the Minister will understand how badly that went down with residents in Southend. I hope that the Minister will reflect on the three letters exchanged between the leader of the council and the Minister for Local Government, Regional Governance and Fire, and that he will reconsider that right hon. Gentleman's refusal to meet a delegation from the council. If the Government felt that they had treated Southend borough council fairly, I should have thought that they would be prepared to meet a delegation. Up until now, I am told, they have refused to do so.
I also hope that the Minister will reflect on the census figures, which are inaccurate as far as Southend borough council is concerned. I hope that he will reflect on how the money has to go into education, which means that terrible cuts are having to be considered in social services and highways. I hope that he will reflect on the difficulties that the council must face on issues surrounding asylum seekers. Finally, I hope that he will consider the lousy deal that we have been given by the Government for looking after our young people.
There is currently great concern about the level of council tax. Some of my colleagues might groan at what I am about to say, but I am proud to tell the House that I made my maiden speech on the Bill that introduced the community charge. I still believe that if the community charge had been introduced with many exemptions and at a reasonable level, it would have proved much fairer than the council tax has. Every year Labour claims that its funding settlements are generous, but every year council tax across England soars. Every year Labour breaks its promises. Most recently, the Labour promise, made by the Minister for Local Government, Regional Governance and Fire was that
I am grateful to Councillor Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, who is the leader of Kent county councilEssex Members have many friends across the water in Kentwho advised me that the proportion of the council budget funded by Government grant in the south-east for 200304 was 64.5 per cent., whereas in the north-east it was 75.5 per cent. That is some 10 per cent. more, which is grossly unfair. Some 35.5 per cent. of the council budget was funded by the taxpayer in the south-east, but only 24.5 per cent. of the council budget was funded by the taxpayer in the north-east.
Southend band D properties paid £854 for council services for the year 200304, which is a 15.7 per cent. increase. However, in Gateshead, a band D property paid £1,115, a 9.8 per cent increase. Gateshead council receives £261 more per household than Southend borough council. However, the real unfairness is that Gateshead council, which raises more money from the council tax, is rewarded by being given 10 per cent. extra grant by the Government. Total public spending per head of the population in 2002 for the south-east was £4,444, compared with £5,793 for the north-east. Why is that disparity so great? I would like the Minister to address that question.
Southend borough council's treasurer, Mr. Andrews, has advised me that if the council is to spend to the formula spending share, it will have to increase the council tax. The leader of the council, Howard Briggs, stated in a letter to the Minister for Local Government, Regional Governance and Fire that for services to remain at their present standard the council needed to increase council tax by
My constituency is No. 1 in the country in terms of the number of residents aged between 100 and 110. That says it all. People in Southend, and especially in Southend, West, are living longer, and that ageing
The leader of the council warned the Minister for Local Government, Regional Governance and Fire that the council tax increase would be 20 per cent., which is obviously wholly unacceptable. I have read the Minister's letter carefully, but neither the leader of the council nor I agree with any part of it. The letter was very, very disappointing.
I am sure that the Under-Secretary will refer to education funding. However, Mrs. Sally Carr, the chairman of Southend education committee, has advised me that Southend's entire budget settlement was not sufficient even to cover the increased amount to be passported for educationhence, extra money was given. The amount left for the rest of the council's services once the funding for schools is taken out will not even cover the rate of inflation, so services will be cut, charges will be increased and a high rate of council tax will be needed just for the council to stand still.
Southend was the highest delegating authority in the country, so it will have to continue to passport the same amount even though it is not directly funded. Last year, Southend took £700,000 from the LEA block grant to make up the difference for school funding and it will have to do exactly the same this year to maintain the amount that the Government say must be passported.
Southend cannot continue to sustain such amounts. We spend less per pupil at LEA level, because of all the extra work that the authority has to do with no extra funding; for example, by the end of 2004, it must be the clearing house for all secondary admissions, which is putting a real strain on central resources. Schools have received the required amountless the £700,000 that we have to make upbut the rest of the local authority has received nothing, and social services especially will suffer.
I have said that settlements for children and older people are disappointing compared with those for the rest of the country. The social services department will receive an average increase of 4.6 per cent., compared with an increase of 6.3 per cent. for England as a whole. Southend's director of social care, John Nawrockyi, has advised me that up to 60 jobs will have to be cut due to the financial settlement, although he hopes that the cuts will be spread evenly across the department.
The council understands that the Government will penalise local authorities if they are found guilty of what is described as "bed blocking". If social services cannot move elderly people out of Southend hospital, they will be penalised with fines of £100 per person. In an article in the excellent Leigh Times, the leader of the local authority stated that those provisions would
I say again to the Minister that the local authority corresponded with the Office for National Statistics and the census figures showed that the number of vacant houses did not tally with the council's council tax returns. The figure for vacant houses was not accurate in respect of, for example, the Palace hotel, which looks after many homeless people and asylum seekers.
The Government have been very unfair to Southend borough council, which has done a splendid job in looking after local residents. It has coped with the increasing demands made on it, but it is faced with a crisis, whereby it will have to introduce a high council tax, cut services and staff and increase charges for off-street parking and crematorium and cemetery fees. This financial settlement will not only produce a huge council tax, but have a detrimental effect on Southend residents' quality of life. It is a very raw deal, and at the very least I ask the Minister to have a conversation with his right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, Regional Governance and Fire, so that he reconsiders refusing on three occasions to meet a delegation from Southend borough council.