|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Peter Bradley (The Wrekin) (Lab): I cannot say that I welcome the statement. I am sure that my right hon. Friend shares my disappointment that such a well-regarded authority as Telford and Wrekin faces capping. There cannot be a better example of the tension between simultaneously delivering high-quality services and low council tax increases.
I welcome the opportunity for representations. Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that Telford and Wrekin faces particular difficulties, including its historically low council tax, its low asset base, and the implications for its funding of the population undercount? Does he agree that capping for 0.1 per cent.
29 Apr 2004 : Column 1034
above the limit may not be the most appropriate, constructive or proportionate way forward; and that the best outcome for the council and the community would be to avoid capping and protect services this year, while working constructively with the council towards a more sustainable council tax increase next year?
Mr. Raynsford: I welcome the constructive approach that my hon. Friend has adopted. I certainly share his disappointment, but I note that Telford and Wrekin received very generous grant increases of not only 8 per cent. this year, but 8.7 per cent. last year and 7.4 per cent. the year before that. The Government are making substantial grant increases, and we expect authorities to budget prudently to ensure that they do not impose unreasonably large council tax increases.
I take my hon. Friend's point, but he will know that in the case of any set of principles, some authorities will be just above and some will be just below. That poses questions about whether it would be appropriate to require re-billing. We will certainly listen carefully to any representations that he or Telford and Wrekin council wish to make.
David Wright (Telford) (Lab): I associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley) and express my disappointment that West Mercia police authority has been capped. It is a large, rural police authority area that is spending its additional council tax income on recruiting new police officers and community support officers. Indeed, in the past year we have seen 38 new police officers and 21 new community support officers in the constituencies of Telford and the Wrekin. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the nomination process will not place those officers under threat and that the budget will be protected to ensure that police services for the community throughout West Mercia continue to improve?
Mr. Raynsford: My hon. Friend has taken a great interest, as has his hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley), in the position in Telford and Wrekin. On the West Mercia police authority, he will be aware that the budget increase that it proposes is the largest, along with that of Cumbria, of any police authority. It would therefore be wrong of the Government not to consider taking action. As he will know, we are proposing to nominate West Mercia not to cap in-year. I therefore assure him that there is no reason why any changes should be made this year to what the police authority plans to do to meet the needs of the people of West Mercia.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the light of the generous increases in council tax funding that the Government have recently supplied and the abatement of council tax increases among local authorities in the past year, it is particularly disappointing that it should be necessary to introduce capping? That is a sad day for the durable nature of central-local relations in future, irrespective of whether the capping is sophisticated and selective or crude and universal.
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the progress of the balance of funding review that he set up a little while ago? Will he ensure that when it reaches its conclusions
29 Apr 2004 : Column 1035
its report will be published? Does he agree that the genuine difficulties with several issues relating to council tax, including gearing and the balance of funding, should be given a wide airing to assist with longer-term policy considerations about a durable settlement on local government taxation and the balance of funding between central and local?
Mr. Raynsford: My hon. Friend is a great expert on these subjects and he raises some pertinent points. I agree that it is a sad day when capping becomes necessary, but he will recognise that following the substantial increases in Government grant it is unacceptable for large increases again to be imposed on council tax payers. We made it very clear that last year's increases were unacceptable, and we therefore had no option but to take action.
We are making good progress on the balance of funding review. We had a further meeting this week, and we are looking carefully at all the relevant issues. As my hon. Friend knows, local government finance is a minefield, and those who promise quick and easy solutions, as the Liberal Democrats keep doing with their promise of a problem-free local income tax, are no more than snake oil salesmen offering an entirely illusory promise. We are considering all the issues carefully and thoroughly, and I hope that we shall produce our report this summer.
29 Apr 2004 : Column 1036
Lords Reasons for insisting on certain of their amendments to which the Commons have disagreed, considered.
Lords Reason: 1B
The Lords insist on their Amendment 1 to which the Commons have disagreed, for the following Reason
Because responsibility for drawing up regional spatial strategies should lie with the elected representatives of the communities affected.
Lords Reason 3B and the Government motion to insist on disagreement.
Keith Hill: Before we move on to the substance of the Government's proposed amendment in lieu, I would be grateful if I could detain the house for a few moments in order to draw hon. Members' attention to just how willing my colleagues and I have been to listen to genuine issues of concern during the passage of this Bill through both Houses. Hon. Members will recall that we did not get the opportunity at the previous stage of the Bill in this House to debate those issues on which the Government had listened and tabled amendments when we could see that such genuine concerns had been raised.
So let me remind the House that we have introduced amendments that guarantee a statutory role in the regional planning process for county councils and other authorities with strategic planning expertise, through changes to clause 4. These amendments followed extensive discussions with the Local Government Association and the county councils network, and those organisations have undertaken to play their full part in making the new strategic planning arrangements work.
We have also introduced amendments that give more influence to the community and other interested parties through the new clause, introduced on Third Reading in the Lords, introducing the regional public participation
29 Apr 2004 : Column 1037
statement. We have accepted the removal of statements of development principles provisionsthat is in clause 41and retained and strengthened outline planning permission in schedules 6 and 9.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|