New Clause 9 — Regulations about powers to require information, offences and penalties
Local Government Finance Bill
Kevan Jones (North Durham, Labour)
As my right hon. Friend Mr Raynsford pointed out, the Bill has not changed greatly since we last debated it. The underlying theme remains. As the Minister made clear, it has nothing to do with reform or enabling councils to implement a local scheme; it is actually about the Government’s deficit reduction targets. That is why they are so keen to aim for implementation in 2014.
The Minister seems to think—and I recall that Annette Brooke said this during our last debate—that all local authorities are on a level playing field, but they are clearly not. The Minister suggested that, following the 10% cut in council tax benefit, councils could make up the difference if they wished to, which may be all well and good for councils in areas where the benefit is being increased. I hate to return to my favourite example of Wokingham, but a few weeks ago a very good article in the Financial Times stated that its budget was rising by 3%—unlike the budgets of authorities such as Durham, which are declining by as much as 15%.
We are not dealing with level playing fields; we are dealing with a strategy that the Government have worked out quite well. As we can see from the playbook according to which the Conservative part of the coalition is working, it is nothing new. The same strategy was adopted by the Conservatives in Canada in the 1990s. They made savage cuts in public services and devolved decision making to local level: in their case, federal level. What they were saying was “We are giving you freedoms, but we are ensuring that you take all the blame for the cuts.” The flexibility that councils will be given will, in fact, cause them great difficulty, unless they are in Wokingham.
That very good article in the Financial Times, published on
total of 152—that are expecting a real increase in local government spending over the period set out by the Government. Meanwhile, 20% of councils, including Durham, are taking cuts in excess of 15%.
We are being told that we are all in this together and that what is being done is fair, but let us look at the difference between Wokingham and Wigan. In the index of multiple-deprivation, Wokingham scores 5.5 whereas Wigan scores 26. On average, there is an additional 1% increase in local government spending cuts between 2009-10 and 2011-12. Not only are local authorities in the north-east and other deprived areas suffering because their grants are being cut, but they are now going to be hit again by the council tax benefit cut. Local authorities will be told they are being given the flexibility to administer the scheme, but the result will be a 10% cut.