§ 17. Mr. Newton
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what estimate he has made of the likely increase in local authority rates in Essex in 1977–78, following his announcement about the rate support grant.
§ Mr. Newton
Is the Minister aware that, if the effects of inflation and of the rate support grant are passed straight on, it will mean that in three years Essex rates will have gone up by more than 70 per cent.? This will hit many people who have already been hit by huge increases in mortgages and commuter fares. 447 The bitterness they feel is even greater because of the subsidising of extravagant metropolitan authorities. Is there not some other way of helping the cities without discriminating against rural ratepayers?
§ Mr. Freeson
We must avoid that kind of rhetorical nonsense in any sensible discussion of this matter. The recent RSG settlement cannot be extrapolated as simply as the hon. Member has suggested. It takes much more than that to decide the actual rate poundage which a particular authority will impose at the end of the day.
§ Mr. Newens
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the likely increase in rates in Essex and in metropolitan areas will, in fact, cause considerable hardship and will increase the incentive in certain Conservative circles to cut back even more rigorously than at present on the standard of services in those areas? Many of us who are anxious to maintain services find it extremely difficult to counter this sort of activity at the present time.
§ Mr. Freeson
This sort of consideration is very much in our minds, among other things. The question of levels of expenditure or standards of public services of one kind or another does not depend simply—even in the good times, let alone the difficult times we are experiencing at present—on the particular level of State support for rate expenditure. This has varied over the years and will vary in years to come.
§ Mr. Heseltine
The Minister says that he has not made any calculations about the rate increases in Essex. Can he, therefore, explain the purpose of publishing a detailed list of county charges showing the increase in Essex to be 19 per cent. and in many other authorities up to 30 per cent. next year as a direct result of Government policies?
§ Mr. Freeson
The hon. Member has not taken the point. It is not simply a question of the rate support grant settlement which decides what individual rate levels will be. There are other factors to be taken into account by the authorities concerned in deciding them, such as the level of budget expenditure, provision for inflation and balances, and in areas these will have as much, if not greater, effect as the RSG settlement.