Share-out of councils cash greeted with Tory protests

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SENIOR TORIES last night protested at the share out of government grant to councils as the Commons approved English local authority expenditure totalling pounds 41.2bn in 1993-94, a rise of 3.1 per cent on the current year.

Government support towards the total will be pounds 33.5bn, a rise of 3.7 per cent.

Michael Howard, Secretary of State for the Environment, said councils should have to raise no more money in real terms from local taxpayers than they budgeted to raise this year.

But Jack Straw, Labour's environment spokesman, accused Mr Howard of ignoring the effect the settlement would have in reduced jobs and services, while Conservatives complained at the share received by their councils.

Sir Rhodes Boyson, a former housing minister, said the Conservative-controlled London Boroughs Association believed that councils in greater London had a 'gap' of about pounds 200m. Repeating his belief that London and the South-east should have had a separate set of council tax property value bands to reflect higher housing and living costs, the Brent North MP said he feared high council taxes in London would increase the number of repossessions.

'I am told by council leaders in Brent that as it stands the cuts will have to come in education; that will mean that something like 90 teachers will lose their jobs,' Sir Rhodes said.

Sir Anthony Grant, Conservative MP for Cambridgeshire South West, protested that his county had been treated 'very unfairly' compared to neighbouring Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

Mr Howard accepted that many MPs regarded DoE standard spending assessments with 'the deepest suspicion'. He said that next year, when the department would be working on how best to incorporate the 1991 census findings into the formula, he intended to look again at some of the more fundamental issues, including the area cost adjustment which angered Sir Anthony and others.

Responding to appeals by Tory MPs in the Heathrow area, Mr Howard announced a special grant for local authorities coping with an influx of unaccompanied refugee children. He also said a special grant covering spending on displaced people from the former Yugoslavia would continue next year. The authorities received a total of pounds 80,000 under the scheme this year.