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It is indeed. I might also ask the hon. Gentleman to tell us what the staff complement figures are now and what they were 10 years ago. The silence is illuminating.
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The hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) asked us to look again at the area cost adjustment. I announced in the debate, and in a statement on 5 December, that the geography was certainly something to be looked at following arguments presented across the political spectrum. I cannot, of course, offer the hon. Gentleman a commitment to solve the problem.
My hon. Friends the Members for Wigan (Mr. Turner), for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) and for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) made important points about the impact of "damping" and the need, as they saw it, for a timetable to reduce it. I am grateful for the positive way in which they raised those issues. It confirms the falsehood of the accusation that this is a new distribution formula heavily biased towards Labour areas. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan sees some irony in that, but I am grateful to him for acknowledging that he has some sympathy for the floor as a policy. The floor relating to non-schools expenditure on education authorities provides the protection that he wants. Authorities such as his and mine would have been in severe difficulties without the double floor applying to the formula spend element and the overall grant.
The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) raised points about wider Government policy and priorities in education, health and development. He acknowledged that while this was a tough settlement it was inflationary on the whole, and was good enough to praise the Government for their increases in other areas. The hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) presentedas he often doesthe argument against the full resource equalisation in the settlement. My hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Michael Jabez Foster) welcomed the floor. He criticised his county council's priorities, while recognising the difficult decisions that it had to make. He welcomed the 5.8 per cent. settlement, and the 7.2 per cent. settlement for Hastings borough council.
This local government settlement will ensure above-inflation increases in grants for 10 years running. It provides stability and predictability through a two-year settlement, and builds on the policy of investing in local services. It does so in a fair way, recognising the needs of different types of authority across the country in a manner that is not politically partisan, despite the accusation that has been made. I commend it to the House.
That the Limitation of Council Tax and Precepts (Alternative Notional Amounts) Report (England) 200607, HC 859, a copy of which was laid before this House on 31st January, be approved. [Mr. Woolas.]
Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): I submitted my request for an Adjournment debate on swimming facilities for disabled people in order to highlight a specific issue: the imminent closure of a swimming pool in Chesterfield, which will leave many people who live in Staveley, in my constituency, without anywhere to swim. But the campaign to keep Middlecroft leisure centre open seems to have touched on issues that go way beyond the local. To put the Minister in the picture, Liberal Democrat-led Chesterfield borough council has announced that it will close Middlecroft swimming baths at the end of this May. They will be replaced by a fitness centre a couple of miles down the roada centre that has no swimming facilities. The council is talking about providing a new swimming pool in the area, but there are no definite plans.
The fact is that Middlecroft will lose its pool and residents will have nowhere to swim. Those residentsangry parents and anxious elderly and disabled swimmershave formed the Middlecroft leisure centre action group. Their slogan"You can't learn to swim in a gym"reflects the fact that in a rural area and a coalfield community such as ours, the nearest swimming pool is many miles away and in practice is not accessible, especially for those who do not have a car. The national curriculum now specifies that all children should be able to swim 25 m by the age of 11, so this closure will put a huge burden on Derbyshire county council, which will have to bus children from school to swimming pool and back again. That time could better be spent learning to swim, and that money could better be spent on sport or education.
However, the real reason that I asked for this debate is the plight of the Spireoaks swimming club for disabled swimmers, which is based at the Middlecroft swimming baths. Spireoaks is not huge. It has some 20 members with a wide range of disabilitiesfrom cerebral palsy, autism and Down's syndrome to epilepsy. It is run by the incredibly dedicated and determined husband-and-wife team of Dorothy and Brian Wibberley. They set up at Middlecroft more than 11 years ago and have enjoyed success after success. Most recently, 16-year-old Tom Harrison, who has a brain injury, won bronze at the "Double Dutch" open championships in Holland. Dorothy and Brian were delighted when they heard that the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics are to come to the UK. The club planned to have at least one Paralympic medal winner from Middlecroft and Staveley.
Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab):
Such behaviour by the council is indeed unacceptable, but does my hon. Friend not find it even more embarrassing that there is no Liberal Democrat representation in the House for this important debate?
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