The Chancellor has allocated £350 million, which is adequate to cover the costs of the concessionary scheme, as is recognised by all parties concerned. The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head, but the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) criticised me a moment ago with the allegation of centralising and taking powers. The hon. Gentleman can either have devolution or not. If he wants the concessionary fare system to workI know that he doesI hope that he supports my attempt to implement that policy using the formula grant rather than a centralised grant, which is, of course, the alternative.
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Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan) (Lab): I welcome the increase in the resource allocation equalisation element, which is partly intended to ensure that local authorities such as mine that would suffer because of the lack of the revaluation will be compensated somehow, but I doubt very much whether it will fully compensate them. Will my hon. Friend ensure that the neighbourhood renewal fund is extended at least until the Lyons review is implemented? Will he also ensure that the cap on that fund comes off, so that authorities such as mine will get the full amount that they are entitled to under the formula, rather than the reduced amount that they get at the moment?
Mr. Woolas: I thank my hon. Friend for his support. For the benefit of the House, I should say that the move towards full resource equalisation has been taken because it appeared to my right hon. Friends and me to be the sensible way to implement the new system, particularly given the announcement of the abolition of the formula spending share, which has been criticised by some local authorities.
My hon. Friend's authorityWigan metropolitan borough, which is rated as an excellent authority by the independent Audit Commissionwill receive grant increases of 2.3 per cent. next year and 3.8 per cent. the following year and neighbourhood renewal funds of £4.1 million for 200607. That fund is, of course, subject to a transitional relief scheme whereby, as areas become more prosperous under the scheme, the funding is tapered away.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): The Minister's announcement of a two-year settlement is to be welcomed if it is a good one; of course, if it is a bad one, it merely prolongs the agony for a further year. In that connection, Gloucestershire's fire and police settlements look particularly challenging. In Gloucestershire, our fire service has already been regionalised and our police force is about to be merged. No doubt, that will be followed by the Crown Prosecution Service, the probation service and the youth offending service. Will the Minister give us an absolute assurance today that, if the savings from those mergers do not occurin fact, if there is a costnone of the costs of those mergers will accrue to the council tax payers of Gloucestershire?
Mr. Woolas: The proposals on police authorities, which are under consultation, are driven by the policy of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of police authorities. However, I can reassure the hon. Gentleman, because the floor level announced for next year for the fire and rescue service of 1.5 per cent. must be viewed in conjunction with the generous approach that we have taken on the repayment of modernisation fund money. Additionally, new arrangements for fire and police authorities for paying pensionsthe scheme for each is unfundedhave been devised in such a way as to benefit those authorities, so I expect that they will be widely welcomed. Before the hon. Gentleman draws his conclusions, I would ask him to read the small print, although I am not accusing him of not doing so.
Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab):
I welcome the increase of 5.2 per cent. in grant formula for Luton council up to 2007 and the stability that the Minister is
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offering. I understand that this is the eighth consecutive year in which we have received an inflation or inflation-plus settlement for local authorities. However, is he aware that Liberal-Tory Luton council has already indicated that it will make swingeing cuts to social services on the basis of anticipated Government grant cuts, thus ending day care to the elderly and all but the most acute social services? Will he clarify that that is not necessary and investigate Liberal-Tory Luton, the financial mismanagement of which appears to be putting the most vulnerable in jeopardy?
Mr. Woolas: I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution. Proposals that are put forward on the basis of formulae that have not been consulted on are not real proposals. I sometimes think that those who advocate opposition to the formulae on which there has been consultation are the same people who ask for more consultation. Perhaps in this area, if not in others, we are damned if we do and damned if we do not.
I can give my hon. Friend the reassurance for which she asks. The proposed net increase in the 200607 formula grant for Luton is 2.8 per cent. The figure is 5.2 per cent. for South Bedfordshire council and 2 per cent. for Bedfordshire council. In the following year, the figure for Luton will be 4.9 per cent., and it will be 4.6 per cent. and 2.7 per cent. for South Bedfordshire and Bedfordshire councils respectively.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con):
I declare an interest as a member of Kettering borough council. Is the Minister aware of the special situation that faces Northamptonshire, given that it is the county that faces the highest proportionate increase in its population as a result of the Government's growth area agenda? Will he advise the House whichand whosepopulation
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projections have been used by the Registrar General? The brief look that I have had at the document that has been produced today suggests to me that the Registrar General is rather underestimating the population increase in the county.
Mr. Woolas: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and acknowledge readily that he has taken a close interest in the matter on behalf of his area through his participation in debates. I point him to the proposals on the use of population statistics that have been announced today. In the past there was simply a regressive look at population, but there is now a balance between historical growth and future projections. I am more than happy to look into the detail of his point, but I think that the Government should be given support and praise today for the acknowledgement that we have madeboth in the pre-Budget report of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and the local council settlementof growth area demands, which, incidentally, exist throughout the country.
Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): In addition to the grant floor for different local authority types, will my hon. Friend explain further what he means by phasing of social services?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question, which will be important to her constituents and people throughout London. I have announced today that in addition to the floor that is provided to give stability to different types of local authorities throughout the country, social services will themselves be subject to a floor of 2.7 per cent. in both the young people and adult formulae. As I said in my statement, the floor is a permanent part of the local government formula.
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This Government back Britain's families and back Britain's businesses. Those aims are not mutually exclusive, but mutually supportive. Flexible working raises employment levels for our economy, widens the talent pool for business and improves people's standards of living. It enables parents and other carers not only to stay in work, but to advance at work as well. It seeks to ensure that every child gets the best possible start in life.
The Bill has four main parts. It will extend paid maternity and adoption leave, extend the successful right to request flexible working to carers of adults, help fathers to play more of a role in their child's upbringing if the mother returns to work, and make it easier for employers to manage the administration of those rights.
The Bill is about fairness, social justice and genuine choice. It is a necessary response to unprecedented change within our society, to unprecedented change within our economy, with the growth of Asia, to advances in technology, and to huge shifts in demographics. It is also a response to unprecedented change in our homes. The old formula dictated that all mothers gave up work completely on childbirth, while fathers sometimes had to work longer hours to make up for the loss of income, particularly if the mother was the higher earner. Increasingly, fathers want to play a more active role in child care, beyond the first few weeks of the baby's life, and more and more mothers want to return to the workplace after having a child, often because of a financial imperative, but also because they see work as an important part of a fulfilled life.
Around half of all mothers now return to work after having a child compared with a quarter a generation ago. Men now take on a third of all child care. So the birth of a child need not be the end of the mother's career. Mothers should not be forced out of the work force when they would rather stay on, and businesses should not be deprived of highly skilled, highly trained, highly capable staff when they want to retain them.