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9.49 pm

Mr. Raynsford: With the leave of the House, Mr. Speaker, I should like to reply. We have had a good, thorough and extensive debate, which has covered a wide range of issues. I shall try to do justice in the short time available to the many speeches that we have heard.

The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss), speaking for the official Opposition, deftly tried to damn me either way by picking up my remark

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about the complexity of the system and the fact that it was probably only intelligible to anoraks; he then suggested that probably even I did not understand it. If I agree, I condemn myself for not understanding the system; if I do not, I condemn myself as an anorak. Either way, I cannot get out of that. [Interruption.] I ask Members to wait until the end of the speech before judging.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), who opened the debate from the Back Benches, welcomed the real-terms increase in grant and highlighted some specific questions from Leicester, particularly the addition of 488 pupils to the school register since the annual census, largely as a result of the influx of Somalis from Holland. That unique and special problem will be considered by the education funding strategy group. However, we cannot make an immediate change to a formula which has been generally agreed and will not be changed in the course of this year. We understand the problem and shall obviously look at it.

The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders), speaking for the Liberal Democrats, acknowledged that the grant increase was generous overall, but expressed concern, as many Members did, about particular difficulties in relation to social services. I acknowledged that issue in my opening remarks. The hon. Gentleman highlighted failings in the grant distribution formula which, as he knows, we have pledged to replace. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Mole), in an impressive maiden speech, paid tribute to his predecessor, Jamie Cann, whom we all miss; he was an assiduous Member of Parliament, as well as an assiduous and dedicated leader of Ipswich borough council before coming here. We all miss him. My hon. Friend highlighted the importance of community leadership and spoke with knowledge and authority about the financial pressures on local authorities; I am sure that he will contribute authoritatively to many future debates on the subject in the House.

The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), in a characteristically thoughtful speech, remembered his own days in the post that I currently occupy. I have been thinking about him; when I went to meet the LGA after the publication of the provisional settlement, it began by reminding me of its meeting with the right hon. Gentleman six years ago, which he opened with the words, "We've all been stuffed by the Treasury." I am pleased that that was not the experience this year.

Mr. Curry: I am delighted to have afforded much innocent pleasure over many years to many people in local government, who no doubt have a great nostalgia for the Minister who was honest. The right hon. Gentleman and I have shared the occasional glass of something and the occasional meal. Now and again, we have mused about the behaviour of the Treasury; in those conversations, I have not noticed a sharp difference in view between us.

Mr. Raynsford: I look forward to continuing this conversation with the right hon. Gentleman, perhaps over another glass of wine one evening.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) made a powerful case for the reform of the standard spending assessment to end the disparity in the treatment of different counties, particularly his own. That is a

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complex issue, which I shall pick up when I deal with the contributions of other hon. Members. The hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir P. Beresford) criticised the best value regime, which is not surprising, given that he was very much committed to the discredited compulsory competitive tendering regime, which it replaced. There is no appetite in local government for returning to CCT. We shall continue to refine and improve the best value regime; as it beds in, and as we cut out unnecessary complexity which, I accept, has been present in the early stages, there will be genuine benefits in driving up services.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) made a passionate case for the reform of the SSA system, which has particularly disadvantaged areas of great need in south Yorkshire and neighbouring areas. He mentioned a perverse incentive in the current housing benefit arrangements, and said that reduction in fraud could reduce local authorities' grant entitlement. We accept that that is a fair point and we will examine it in the formula review.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) highlighted the difficulties facing his county. There is no question but that there is real pressure there in relation to social services, which I have acknowledged in discussion with him. The grant increase for County Durham is 5.6 per cent. It is a little lower than the shire county average of 6.1 per cent., but it is a good increase, well above inflation, and compares with 3.2 per cent. last year. It involves an additional £15.8 million for County Durham.

The hon. Member for Mid–Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) drew attention to social services pressures in her area and also to the matter of refrigerators. The £6 million Government grant is designed to cover the cost of storage of fridges up until March this year—only in the period from January to March—and should not be confused with an annual figure. We will consider the position urgently and determine what further action is required beyond March to help deal with the issue. I hope that that reassures the hon. Lady.

The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) also presented the problems facing county councils and in doing so highlighted the dilemma. Whatever changes we make to the formula, there will inevitably be some authorities that receive less than others, either per capita or in an overall figure. That is the nature of a formula system for distribution of grant.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that a formula system is better than an arbitrary system of allocation by ministerial fiat. He has drawn attention to the problem that arises when a formula is used. I do not underestimate the difficulties of trying to create a fairer and better system in the future than the one that we have at present, but I believe that we can make progress in simplifying the system, making it slightly less opaque than it is, and addressing some of the genuine unfairnesses that are inherent in the current arrangement.

The report that we have debated this evening confirms a generous settlement which gives an average increase of 7.5 per cent. in funding for local authorities in England. Some speakers criticised aspects of the settlement or expressed concerns about the current position in their constituency, but almost all acknowledged that this year's settlement is generous. It is not a panacea for all local

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authority problems. We recognise the very real pressures that local authorities face, not least in respect of social services, but it is a settlement that gives real-term increases in grant to the vast majority of authorities and a guaranteed increase of at least inflation for every authority in England.

How very different was the experience that local government had under the previous Government. The average grant increase in the last five years of the Tory Government was just 2 per cent. per annum—just 2 per cent. per annum over that five-year period. Since 1997, we have seen an average of 6 per cent. per annum, and this year the increase is 7.5 per cent.

This is a good settlement from a Government who are committed to local government and to forging a new relationship with local government. We recognise the hugely important contribution that local government makes to meeting local needs and delivering services to people in its area. We are determined to work in partnership with local government and to help local authorities meet their responsibilities and deliver to their residents the high quality services that their residents expect and need.

We are making real progress in establishing a far better and more positive relationship with local government—a relationship based on trust, the removal of unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy, giving greater freedoms to local authorities, and putting that in the context of a performance management system that will drive up standards. The ultimate aim is to deliver high quality services to people in need. All of us, whether from the local government or central Government perspective, want high quality services to be delivered to the people whom we represent. This is a good settlement, which I commend to the House.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 286, Noes 40.

Division No. 149
[9.59 pm


Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)
Allen, Graham
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald
(Swansea E)
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Bailey, Adrian
Baird, Vera
Barnes, Harry
Barron, Kevin
Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Benn, Hilary
Bennett, Andrew
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul
Bradley, Rt Hon Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Rt Hon Nicholas
(Newcastle E & Wallsend)
Bryant, Chris
Burden, Richard
Burnham, Andy
Cairns, David
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Caplin, Ivor
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, Rt Hon Charles
(Norwich S)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Corston, Jean
Cranston, Ross
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Curtis–Thomas, Mrs Claire
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
David, Wayne
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davis, Rt Hon Terry
(B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, Rt Hon John
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foulkes, George
Galloway, George
Gapes, Mike
George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Grogan, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Hanson, David
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Havard, Dai
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hendrick, Mark
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Heyes, David
Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Hoey, Kate
Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hutton, Rt Hon John
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Joyce, Eric
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Laxton, Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Lucas, Ian
Luke, Iain
Lyons, John
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Stephen
McCafferty, Chris
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
McDonnell, John
MacDougall, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNamara, Kevin
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Mahmood, Khalid
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall–Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Miliband, David
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Moran, Margaret
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Rt Hon Estelle
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Munn, Ms Meg
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Hara, Edward
Olner, Bill
Organ, Diana
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Owen, Albert
Pearson, Ian
Picking, Anne
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prescott, Rt Hon John
Primarolo, Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Quin, Rt Hon Joyce
Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Rt Hon Nick
Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Robertson, John
(Glasgow Anniesland)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie
Roy, Frank
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Short, Rt Hon Clare
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, Rt Hon John
Squire, Rachel
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr Howard
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Rt Hon Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Touhig, Don
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tynan, Bill
Vis, Dr Rudi
Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Watson, Tom
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Woodward, Shaun
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony
Wray, James
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, David (Telford)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Ayes:

Angela Smith and
Dan Norris.


Allan, Richard
Barrett, John
Beggs, Roy
Breed, Colin
Burnett, John
Burstow, Paul
Calton, Mrs Patsy
Carmichael, Alistair
Cotter, Brian
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Doughty, Sue
Foster, Don (Bath)
George, Andrew (St Ives)
Gidley, Sandra
Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Hancock, Mike
Harris, Dr Evan (Oxford W)
Heath, David
Hermon, Lady
Holmes, Paul
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Keetch, Paul
Lamb, Norman
Laws, David
Moore, Michael
Pugh, Dr John
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Robinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Sanders, Adrian
Shepherd, Richard
Stunell, Andrew
Taylor, Dr Richard (Wyre F)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Thurso, John
Tonge, Dr Jenny
Webb, Steve
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Younger–Ross, Richard

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. A. J. Beith and
Mrs. Annette L. Brooke.

Question accordingly agreed to.

30 Jan 2002 : Column 396


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