Motion to Take Note (Continued)
Comprehensive Spending Review
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Labour)
My Lords, as other noble Lords have said, this stage of the debate is quite difficult. However, I refute what the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said, when he said that others say that nothing should be done. I cite the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, who said that it is a question of timing, severity and pace, and the current Government have got it wrong.
The noble Lord, Lord Stewartby, who is currently not in his place, spoke about people talking about gloom and doom in 1981 which did not happen. When I was on the Lancashire County Council with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves-now a member of a government party-Lancashire was knocked for six by government policies in 1981. Some of the Conservatives down in London never noticed it happen. Lancashire County Council's response concerned the discretionary element of local government-educational maintenance awards-particularly for young people in areas such as Skelmersdale. It is pretty horrific to see that progress being withdrawn.
The reduction referred to in local authority budgets is approximately 27 per cent over four years. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred to the community and officers in Lancashire. All around the House, noble Lords know about the various local initiatives that have come from the flexibility of that part of local authority budgets where they can choose what to do. We are about to see the decimation of that across the country.
I have news for the noble Viscount-he may have missed it yesterday-but the Minister for children in another place suggested that local authorities could save money by recruiting volunteers to complement the work of social workers. I listened very carefully to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and others in the Chamber. I am a passionate supporter of and I declare a non-pecuniary interest in the Scouts and the youth service in Lancashire and I have local government experience. If we look to the big society to replace social workers, to replace all the services currently undertaken at local authority level, things will go wrong.
The day the Prime Minister was expanding on the big society, I happened to be in the garden at Dolphin Square speaking to a Republican Presbyterian minister from a small town in Texas. He said to me, "It's very funny in this country. Ronald Reagan had that idea. He came to visit our community in Texas and we worked it out that, to replace the publicly funded services, a church with the population of 200 regular communicants would have to raise $600,000". That is the issue.
The issue is not that those of us who argue with the concept of the big society are opposed to voluntarism. Like people across this Chamber, we have all been involved in the voluntary sector, worked with it and supported it. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester was quite right to say that there is a lot going on out of there, but there is a great deal that can be damaged out there. The history of the charitable sector and true localism-by "true localism" I mean not cutting the discretionary budgets of local authorities-is innovation, initiative and meeting demand, which has then been taken over as a general universal right. My heavens, this Government's budget, with its crippling timing, pace and severity, is about to destroy what centuries of people have put right. My heart goes out to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester on the issue of family and community stability. I represented part of Preston called Ribbleton for years. Terrible actions cause damage to the whole community and a whole generation of workers was wiped out because Courtauld moved in to get a grant and then moved out when the grant stopped and it was cheaper to go somewhere else. In that community we have some severe problems. The majority of people are stable, local people. They go to local churches. They will work with voluntary organisations. They help each other out. They visit the elderly down the street. However, if you start smashing their right to live in their social housing, all that will happen is that you will take the guts out of what is good in that community. That will be replicated up and down the country.
I did not think I would ever criticise the noble Lord, Lord Newby, for this in this Chamber but today the noble Lords, Lord Plumb and Lord Newby, raised the issue of public sector funding. The noble Lord, Lord Plumb, was probably the most honest; he got very close to saying, "What about more money for agriculture?". The noble Lord, Lord Newby, said that the previous Government were spending too much money. My heavens, I look around this Chamber, where people have said, "Why can we not have more money for cleaning up the sea? Why can we not spend more on footpaths? Why can we not spend more on roads? Why can we not spend more on trains? Schools want more". This has come from all around the Chamber. When we were in government the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats never once stood up and said, "When will this Government stop spending money on the things we think are important?".
I accept that growth is critical. I accept that reform is necessary-not reform imposed by Whitehall but reform through innovation at local level. Yes, there should be fairness. But, please, as we go through what will be a very grim experience-not for me or, I suspect, for many people in this Chamber-can we add the qualities of honesty and transparency?