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Hansard 12 Jan: Col 104 ...
Hansard 12 Jan: Col 104

Local government minister Hilary Armstrong yesterday defended her decision not to announce capping criteria.

She told Andrew Lansley, Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire - who asked what impact that decision would have on transparency and accountability - 'The accountability and transparency of local authority decision-making will be improved.

'Local authorities will no longer be able simply to take their capping limits as their budgets, and will instead have to consider carefully their needs and the funding they will receive when drawing up their spending plans'.

Mr Lansley said to local authorities the absence of criteria meant the capping system, far from being transparent, was utterly opaque. It would be an unhappy situation if councils were to be capped with a small margin between their budget requirement and the capping limit.

He asked the minister to give two pledges: first, that an allowance will be made for very small differences between capping criteria, so as not to require rebilling for small sums of money; and, secondly, that she would take particular account of the special circumstances of authorities that have a budget requiremenyt that is close to their standards spending assessment.

But Ms Armstrong said she was not able to tell the House what the capping criteria would be. The government was consulting on the matter and consultation did not end until Wednesday [yesterday]. She added: 'I do not accept that the system has been made more opaque. The fact is that the previous administration introduced a system that meant that central government determined everything. That gives local authorities little accountability to local people.'

If authorities were responsible capping would not arise, she said.

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