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Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con): The problem with Bromley is compounded by the problem faced by a number of other authorities. The DFES inadvertently allocated Bromley's data to Buckinghamshire, while Bristol's data were allocated to Bromley. I understand that five other authorities are involved. Something needs to be amended. One other amendment with regard to the capital adjustment mechanism and the flow calculations affects East Sussex and a number of other authorities. If it is a question of making time available, clearly, the Opposition will co-operate on this matter. It is not de minimis: these are significant sums of money.
Mr. Raynsford: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is not de minimis. However, it is important to have a de minimis rule. That is why I undertook to look at the matter. If it is a significant problem, I am prepared to bring forward an amending report. As he will understand, if there are consequences for other authorities, those will need to be looked at, too. Only one amending report can be done for any single financial yearthat is the rule laid down by the Houseso we need to be certain that all the relevant factors have been taken into account. We will be prepared to do that, assuming that we are satisfied, having looked at the evidence, that there is a significant problem.
All regions have benefited from the settlement, so let me knock on the head once and for all the entirely misleading claim put about by the Opposition that authorities in the south of England have been penalised by the grant distribution formula. There is no truth whatever in that claim. The figures speak for themselves. Many southern authorities are benefiting from some of the largest increases: Wiltshire, with a 9.4 per cent. increase; West Berkshire, with an 11.3 per cent. increase; and Wokingham, with a 13.2 per cent. increase[Hon. Members: "What?"] Some of my hon. Friends express perhaps understandable surprise. On average, authorities in the south-east are receiving precisely the same level of grant increase as authorities in the three
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northern regions, so I hope that we will hear no more unjustified complaints from Conservative Members, whose councils in the south of England are generally getting a far better settlement under this Government than they got when their own party was in power.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): The Minister has been utterly predictable in giving to the London borough of Havering the usual ungenerous settlement: half the average London increase and half the increase of the neighbouring borough of Redbridge, despite having a similar population. Will he join me in congratulating the London borough of Havering and its cabinet member for resources, Councillor Roger Ramsey, who have wrought a minor miracle in bringing in the lowest council tax increase in 10 years through good Conservative house keeping?
Mr. Raynsford: I suspect that, when the hon. Lady has heard these figures, she may have to go back to the councillor and discuss with him the rather changed circumstances compared with when her party was in power. Over the four years that the Conservatives were in power and the council tax appliedthat is the only fair comparison; there was a different local government finance system before thatfrom 199394 to 199798, Havering received on a per capita basis an increase of just 2 per cent. in grant. That was all it got. On a like-for-like basis, in the seven years in which this Government have been in power, Havering has received on a per capita basis a 44 per cent. increase in grant. I sincerely hope that she will not only talk to her Conservative councillors and ensure that they understand that it is this Government who have made possible prudent budgeting in Havering, but have the decency to explain to the electorate of Havering that it is this Government who are ensuring that the council can deliver services cost-effectively.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I am very happy to hear how well southern Conservative seats have done out of the Labour Government, but that will not go down too well in County Durham, which has received far less than the figure that has just been highlighted. Did not the Conservative Government skew money to their local authorities? Why are we not doing it?
Mr. Raynsford: On the same per capita increase basis that I just used, during the seven years in which we have been in government, the county of Durham has received a grant increase of 53 per cent. I hope that my hon. Friend understands the point that I am making, which is that we have been ensuring a fair allocation of grant to authorities in all parts of the country. The Opposition's argument that the south has been penalised and treated badly simply does not stack up. However, we are ensuring justice and fairness for authorities in the north, as well as in the south.
I am grateful to the Minister, who is talking about the per capita increases that authorities
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are receiving. Following on from my earlier intervention, can he confirm that every local authority is receiving a real-terms per capita increase in total grant funding?
Mr. Raynsford: No; the point that I was making is that every authority is receiving a real-terms increase in grant on a like-for-like basis. [Interruption.] In formula grant, which is the fundamental grant, there is a real-terms increase for every authority. There will of course be variations when per capita factors are taken into account. I used these figures because those used by the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) were based on a per head of population calculation. I felt it right that a proper comparison be made on a fair, per capita basis, which is what I have done.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): The Minister mentions boroughs in the south-east that have done very well by getting more than 10 per cent. However, a published table of all-purpose authorities shows that Bournemouth, Brighton and Southend-on-Sea have all received 4 per cent. Bearing it in mind that seaside towns have a multitude of social problems associated with, for example, houses in multiple occupation and asylum seekers, can he name any all-purpose borough in England that has received less than 4 per cent.? Does he agree that he has discriminated against seaside towns?
Mr. Raynsford: No. I cannot name any unitary authority in the whole of England that is getting less than that figure because that is the floor, which guarantees that every authority gets at least 4 per cent. That shows our commitment to ensuring such an increase irrespective of demographic changes, which sometimes result in authorities being entitled to less under the formula. I should point out, however, that if we use for Southend the same formula that I used in response to the hon. Member for Upminster and my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), we see that things were not so good in Southend when the hon. Gentleman's party were in control. The comparisons have to be made with a degree of caution because, as he knows, back then Southend was a district council, not a unitary authority. During the relevant four years in the 1990s, Southend received not an increase in grant but a reduction of 4 per cent. Under this Government, Southend unitary authority has received a 52 per cent. increase in grant, which further confirms that authorities in all parts of the country are receiving good grant increases from this Labour Government.
Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab):
My right hon. Friend is fully aware that in recent weeks, Cumbria has suffered severe flooding and storm damage, as a result of which hundreds if not thousands of properties will be empty for long periods. That could have a serious
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impact on the budgets not just of Cumbria county council but of other local authorities such as Carlisle city council and the police authority. Is he willing to meet representatives of those authorities to consider how to resolve this unique situation?
Mr. Raynsford: My hon. Friend makes an absolutely fair and important point. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) has already been in touch with me about this issue, and we have discussed the significant potential impact on Carlisle's council tax revenue of the large number of properties made uninhabitable by the flooding. There is a convention whereby we do not alter the basic figures that underpin a settlement after November, for the obvious reason that everything has to be done on a particular fixed date. Because the flooding took place after that date, it is not possible to alter this year's settlement in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle asked us to do. I am, however, dealing with this issue as a matter of urgency, and I undertake to meet my hon. Friend the Member for Workington and representatives of the relevant authorities to discuss how we might respond to these rather exceptional circumstances. We are also looking urgently at the possibility of making available assistance though the Bellwin scheme, in order to help not just Carlisle but the surrounding authorities cope with the pressures that they face.
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