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Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what recent estimate the Government have made of the cost of providing freepost mailings to candidates in local elections; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Raynsford: Freepost mailing is not available to candidates in local elections, other than where a local authority choose to include this in an electoral pilot. There was one such pilot in Hyndburn in May 2002 where the Electoral Commission reported the cost to the council to be £10,000.
Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what plans the Government have to conduct future local elections, in whole or part, via remote electronic voting; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Raynsford: As it was made clear in the response to the Electoral Commission's report, "Delivering democracy? The future of postal voting", laid before the House on 9 December 2004, the Government remain committed to the goal of multi-channel elections, in which voters choices will include e-voting channels. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's strategy for achieving this goal is to encourage local authorities to continue the programme of local electoral pilots, including remote e-voting.
Mr. Raynsford: The nearly 400 respondents to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's recent consultation on a review of political restrictions on local government employees included principal authorities, parish councils, employers and employees representative bodies, the Standards Board for England, the Audit Commission, the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors, and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives.
Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what incentives are provided to local authorities to increase the rate of (a) council tax and (b) business rate collection; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Raynsford: If a billing authority exceeds its estimated council tax collection rate, then any surplus is shared with the precepting authorities and can be used to fund future expenditure or keep down the council tax. There is no equivalent incentive with business rates collection.
In addition Best Value Performance Indicators 9 and 10 respectively measure the in- year collection rate for council tax and business rates and this is taken into account in the Comprehensive Performance Assessment process.
Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what proportion of local government revenue expenditure in England was financed by council tax in each year from 199697; and what the estimated proportion for 200506 is. 
|Council tax as a percentage of local government revenue expenditure|
The data are as reported by local authorities and are taken from outturn figures for 199697 to 200203 and budget estimates for 200304 and 200405. The figures shown are gross of council tax benefit.
Mr. Raynsford: I announced on 21 July 2004, Official Report, column 30WS, that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister would not be using the 2001 Census data in the 200506 settlement. This is because it would have been technically incorrect to have simply introduced the data without first amending the statistical models underlying the Formula Spending Share formulae. Changing the formulae in this way would have broken the three year formula freeze to which we are pledged in order to provide funding stability for authorities.
Further research is being undertaken on the formula changes needed to incorporate the 2001 Census data into the Formula Spending Share formulae for a number of services, in particular Personal Social Services and police. This research should conclude in time to allow us to introduce the 2001 Census data in 200607, after the formula freeze has ended.
17 Jan 2005 : Column 765W
Mr. Raynsford: Legislation requires that capping decisions are based on principles determined by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister as First Secretary of State. In reaching his decisions, he must make a comparison between an authority's budget requirement with that of a previous year. He can also determine other principles, such as increases in council tax. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister intends to determine his capping principles once authorities have set their 200506 budget requirements.
The Government have delivered another good settlement for local government, which will ensure that authorities can provide a high level of service. There is no excuse for excessive council tax increases. We have made it clear that we expect to see an average council tax increase of less than 5 per cent. in England in 200506, and that we will take even tougher capping action in 200506 than we did in 200405 if that proves necessary. It is the responsibility of local authorities to budget prudently.
Mr. Bill O'Brien: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many cases where the local government ombudsman decision has been challenged on maladministration have been referred to the courts in each of the last 10 years. 
Mr. Raynsford: Information on cases for years prior to 2001 has not been retained by the ombudsman, and hence could be provided only at disproportionate cost. Numbers of cases which have been referred for judicial review, and their outcome, for each complete financial year since 2001 are tabled as follows:
|Number of cases referred||11||7||7|
|Number of cases where ombudsman's|
decision was upheld
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