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9.40 pm

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): This has been an interesting and important debate. The announcement of the local government finance settlement is an opportunity for Ministers to outline their plans for the future of local government funding. How much council tax people have to pay and, critically, how much money their council will get to enable it to provide local facilities and services are of huge relevance to many people's everyday lives. The debate has never been more important, given the current economic situation, but in spite of that the only reason we have had this debate today is that the Opposition have made time for it. We have used an Opposition day to force the Government to debate a fundamentally important topic for local communities across the country. Parliament is moving-we hope-towards more accountability and transparency. Ministers' attempts to stifle debate on the local government finance settlement fly in the face of that progress.

Today's debate showed starkly the choice that the British electorate face. They can have either councils that are accountable to them or councils that are accountable to Ministers in Whitehall, who think that local communities need to be spoon-fed with central Government diktat and priorities. We have heard that repeatedly in some interesting contributions to today's debate. I do not have time to mention all of them, but the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) talked about how her council is making the most of the powers that it has. I note that it is a Conservative council, but I am sure that she is working with it to help it to make the most of its opportunities.

David Taylor: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Justine Greening: I have little time, so I will not give way. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.

We also heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who talked about how his drive for efficiencies when he was in office has, in many respects, set the tone for what can be achieved. He expressed real concern about the waste and incompetence that we have seen in recent years.

We never fail on these occasions to hear from the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter). I nearly renamed him the hon. Member for Shepherd's Bush, because Ealing and Acton never seem to get a look in. Residents in that area have an MP who does not talk about their council much. He did talk
8 Dec 2009 : Column 256
about residents getting a bad deal from Hammersmith and Fulham council, but it must have been 10 times worse when his party was running the council.

We also heard an important contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) who sensitively and carefully pointed out the pressures on care budgets for the elderly, many arising from demographic changes that will be hard to deal with, however hard we try. He was right to raise his concerns about the cuts to the freedom pass, which enables many elderly people across London to remain independent in their day-to-day lives, which is critical.

In the speech we just heard, the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) rightly made the case for his constituents. That is an example of why having an oral statement rather than a written one is so important to Members' ability to do their job and represent their communities.

The bottom line is that, however Ministers dress it up, council tax has doubled under this Government and is set to rise further-way above the current rate of inflation. As we have heard, next year, residents in many parts of the country can expect rises of 3 per cent.-well above inflation-which will push up many people's council tax to £1,500 a year. In a recession on the scale of the present one, that is unaffordable for many people.

Why are councils under so much pressure? It is partly because they have extra burdens. A raft of initiatives has been pushed down on them by Ministers. So many initiatives have been inflicted on them that the proportion of individual, area and specific grants that are ring-fenced has risen from about 4 per cent. of the grant in 1997 to 15 per cent. now. Councils are less and less able to deliver flexible services for their residents. In fact, the Local Government Association worked out that if councils had more flexibility, they could save £900 million a year. That is surely worth having to reinvest in better local services. The bottom line is that we need our councils to set their priorities locally and deliver them locally, but they cannot do that under the current Government.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): What incentive does my hon. Friend believe there is for extremely efficient councils-for instance, West Sussex county council-that run their affairs extremely well, given that they get the lowest possible grant settlement?

Justine Greening: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We did not get much chance to discuss today the fact that debate on local government financing in this Chamber often focuses on how to divide up the pie, when it should be more about how we can help and encourage local councils to increase the amount of investment available to them locally. That is precisely why we have talked not only about our council tax freeze policy, under which we will work in partnership with local councils to help them to keep council tax down, but about how we will help councils willing to develop their communities through a council tax matching policy, which will help to alleviate residents' concerns about pressures on infrastructure when they develop housing in their areas, for example.

We will also encourage councils to develop local economies, jobs, businesses and extra facilities in their communities through business improvement grants. That means that we will incentivise councils' growing their business rates by allowing them to keep any increases above the inflationary rise set in Whitehall.

8 Dec 2009 : Column 257

Mr. Slaughter: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Justine Greening: I am not going to take any interventions from the hon. Gentleman.

David Taylor: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can your advise the House on whether "Erskine May" has anything to say about Opposition spokespeople who refuse to take anything other than friendly interventions from their own side?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): That is certainly not a point of order for the Chair and is simply wasting time at this point in the evening.

Justine Greening: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I was about to say that the other big cost pressure that many councils have had to put up with has been the huge cost and waste involved in inspections. The Lyons inquiry estimated that about £2 billion is spent on the monitoring process. We have to reduce that. That money should be going into improving local services and cutting council tax bills for residents. Instead, it is spent on exactly the wrong things: it is spent on councils reporting upwards and being accountable to Ministers, when the focus should be on being accountable to their own electorate.

The worst thing is that such burdens, ring-fencing and top-down scrutiny from Ministers in Whitehall who do not know the communities that they are dealing with are only set to grow. We have had a similar Opposition day debate before, and now we are talking about further financial pressures on local councils resulting from some of the Government's plans for taking care of the elderly. The situation is not tenable, which is why we want to set out a different vision for local government finance.

As I have said, we want to introduce incentives and to ensure that the formula is developed sensitively and that the Audit Commission can look at it to ensure that it is transparent and fair. We need to move on to a new chapter in local government finance where councils get the powers, flexibility and resources necessary to deliver what local communities, not just Ministers, want; where there are real incentives; and where councils and the communities that they represent can truly share the benefits. It is a clear choice, and the sooner the public get to make it at a general election, the better.

9.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Barbara Follett): I wish that I could say that this had been an interesting and wide-ranging examination-[Hon. Members: "It says here."] No, it does not say that here. I wish that I could say that this had been an interesting and wide-ranging examination of the local government finance settlement, but it has not. With one or two honourable exceptions, on both sides of the House, this has been just the sort of blustering, grandstanding, smug, "We know better than you and just wait until our side gets in" kind of exchange that puts most normal people off politics and, frankly, puts me off listening to you all.

When I wrote to the hon. Members for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) and for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy)-I did write to them, on 12 November-I pointed out that there was going to be an oral statement. The last time there were very few Members in the
8 Dec 2009 : Column 258
Chamber, and we regretted that there were so few. We would have liked to debate it, and you do get a chance to debate it in January, when you debate the financial settlement, so you have not lost the chance-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the Minister, but she must use the correct parliamentary language.

Barbara Follett: Forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should have known better.

Hon. Members: Yes, you should.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. There are rules for manners all round in the House. Hon. Members should now listen to what the Minister has to say.

Barbara Follett: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We in the Chamber should have known better, because we have wasted an opportunity this time. In his opening remarks, the Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), conceded that the three-year settlement was a good thing. On that, if very little else, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agreed with him. He pointed out that this year, the last year of that three-year settlement, councils will get a 4 per cent. increase in funding, bringing the investment in local government to £76.3 billion in 2010-11.

The Liberal Democrat spokesperson, the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne, at least managed to get off the subject of who did or did not initiate this debate and why. For the record, let me point out again that the House will have a chance to debate the settlement for 2010-11 when it approves the finance report in January. I will certainly try to find out what happened to the letters. I have a copy here and will give everyone one later. I was sorry that the hon. Lady did not develop her party's ideas a little more clearly. She spent most of her time telling the other parties what they were doing wrong and hinting at what she might do right if the Liberal Democrats got into power.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) was quite a change: she was positive and proud. I really understood her pleasure in seeing her constituency develop in the way that it has. Like her, I have seen changes in my constituency, Stevenage. I am glad that she has found the prudential borrowing regime so helpful.

Despite remarks from the Opposition, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter) has been a doughty campaigner for his constituency, including against the injustices that have come in under the Conservative council.

The hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) made some thoughtful comments about the high proportion of elderly residents in Havering and the growing number of older people, with whom Governments of all types will most certainly have to deal in future, and deal with seriously. I hope that he will welcome the Government's engagement with the issue of future funding for adult social care, and also that he will get involved when his local authority makes representations to the consultation on the distribution of concessionary fares that is now being held by the Department for Transport.

8 Dec 2009 : Column 259

The hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) made some telling points about highways maintenance in Croydon. This is a problem across the country, and he will no doubt welcome the fact that we are keeping the formula under review, including the area cost adjustment, to which he referred, in relation to highways costs. Of course, Croydon and other London boroughs are welcome to put their evidence into the review being held by the Department for Transport, and I hope that they will do so.

I realise that I might have been impatient and immoderate at the beginning of my speech, but, as someone who cares deeply about this place and its reputation, I do not think that any of us did it any good today with the kind of debate that we indulged in. Local government finance is a highly technical and complex area that would benefit from a much more in-depth debate than the one we had here today. I regret that we have wasted our time in this way.

Mr. Redwood: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It seems to me that we should fill the time allocated for the debate. That statement from the Minister was a disgrace. If she is so critical of all the rest of us, she could at least have done the House the courtesy of giving us some information and offering a defence of a badly thought-through settlement that has been inadequately debated. Instead, she comes to the House, insults those of us who did participate in the debate, and gives us absolutely nothing in the way of argument, fact or consideration in the light of the many powerful points that have been made today. I hope that she will reflect on that and apologise-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am now going put the question.

Question put (Standing Order No. 31 (2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.

The House divided: Ayes 156, Noes 330.
Division No. 16]
[9.57 pm


Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Amess, Mr. David
Ancram, rh Mr. Michael
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baldry, Tony
Baron, Mr. John
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Bone, Mr. Peter
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brokenshire, James
Browning, Angela
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burrowes, Mr. David
Burt, Alistair
Butterfill, Sir John
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Clark, Greg
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Curry, rh Mr. David
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Davies, Philip
Davis, rh David
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dodds, Mr. Nigel
Donaldson, rh Mr. Jeffrey M.
Dorrell, rh Mr. Stephen
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fabricant, Michael
Field, Mr. Mark
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Mr. Roger

Gauke, Mr. David
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Gray, Mr. James
Green, Damian
Greening, Justine
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, Nick
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Horam, Mr. John
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Howell, John
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Jones, Mr. David
Kawczynski, Daniel
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Kramer, Susan
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Maclean, rh David
Main, Anne
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Maude, rh Mr. Francis
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McCrea, Dr. William
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Mundell, David
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Neill, Robert
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Ottaway, Richard
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Penning, Mike
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pritchard, Mark
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Robinson, Mrs. Iris
Rosindell, Andrew
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Smith, Chloe
Soames, Mr. Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs. Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Streeter, Mr. Gary
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swire, Mr. Hugo
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Mr. Ian
Timpson, Mr. Edward
Tredinnick, David
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Viggers, Sir Peter
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, Mr. David
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Tellers for the Ayes:

Jeremy Wright and
James Duddridge

Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Austin, John
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Bain, Mr. William
Baird, Vera
Balls, rh Ed
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barrett, John
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Battle, rh John
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe

Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blears, rh Hazel
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Blunkett, rh Mr. David
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bradshaw, rh Mr. Ben
Brake, Tom
Breed, Mr. Colin
Brennan, Kevin
Brooke, Annette
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, rh Andy
Burt, Lorely
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byers, rh Mr. Stephen
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Caton, Mr. Martin
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank
Cooper, Rosie
Cooper, rh Yvette
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, Mr. David
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Davey, Mr. Edward
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, Mr. Dai
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Drew, Mr. David
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Farrelly, Paul
Farron, Tim
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flint, rh Caroline
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, Andrew
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gidley, Sandra
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goggins, rh Paul
Goldsworthy, Julia
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hancock, Mr. Mike
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Dr. Evan
Harris, Mr. Tom
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, rh John
Heath, Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hillier, Meg
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hoey, Kate
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Horwood, Martin
Howarth, David
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, rh Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hughes, Simon
Huhne, Chris
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hunter, Mark
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kelly, rh Ruth
Khan, rh Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, rh Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lamb, Norman
Lammy, rh Mr. David
Laws, Mr. David
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Leech, Mr. John
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McCartney, rh Mr. Ian
McFadden, rh Mr. Pat
McGuire, rh Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Meacher, rh Mr. Michael
Meale, Mr. Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Mr. Alan
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Moore, Mr. Michael
Morden, Jessica
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, Mr. George
Mulholland, Greg
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, rh Mr. Jim
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, rh Mr. Mike
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Olner, Mr. Bill
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, Sandra
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Prescott, rh Mr. John
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Pugh, Dr. John
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, rh John
Rennie, Willie
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Rogerson, Dan
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Lindsay
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob
Russell, Christine
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Sarwar, Mr. Mohammad
Seabeck, Alison
Sharma, Mr. Virendra
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Simpson, Alan
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, rh Jacqui
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Spink, Bob
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Stunell, Andrew
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, David
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Teather, Sarah
Thurso, John
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Ussher, Kitty
Vaz, rh Keith
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Waltho, Lynda

Ward, Claire
Watson, Mr. Tom
Watts, Mr. Dave
Webb, Steve
Wicks, rh Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mark
Williams, Mr. Roger
Williams, Stephen
Willis, Mr. Phil
Wills, rh Mr. Michael
Wilson, Phil
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Wood, Mike
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
Younger-Ross, Richard
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Frank Roy and
Mary Creagh
Question accordingly negatived.
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