Minister denies rigging funding: Councils 'still have local democracy'

DAVID CURRY, the local government minister, yesterday insisted he was 'colour blind' in making changes to the amounts local councils will get from the Government.

He said that local democracy was still with councils. 'They can spend the money building pyramids legally if they wish,' he said.

He said that although a total sum was announced by the Government, individual councils could spend the money in the way they wanted.

Mr Curry, giving evidence to the Environment Select Committee, said that councils had the freedom to make their own spending priorities.

'I insist that we were absolutely and scrupulously fair. If we wanted to rig the system I am bright enough to do it,' he added.

The new allocation takes into account the 1991 census, which includes population changes; and different statements about education needs, new homeless needs and, for example, the cost of day visits by tourists to an area.

Wandsworth council in south London, which has always been a great gainer in Tory redistributions, loses out. London loses generally, but many shire councils make gains.

Mr Curry was questioned about the situation where three schools, not far away from each other, had very different budgets. One in Manchester had a budget of pounds 2,205 per pupil, one in Tameside pounds 1,784, and one in Stockport pounds 1,689.

Andrew Bennett, a former Labour education spokesman, said this showed that a political solution came first, and then the statistics were made to match later.

Mr Bennett said that there was no justification for the difference in budgets, which he said was a result of the lack of central government money to local government.

Mr Curry said that the differences arose from the areas themselves. 'Manchester is very different from Stockport in terms of social characteristics, and we have taken account of them.'