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Local Government Finances

Part of Opposition Day — [1st allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 9:40 pm on 8th December 2009.

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government), Vice-Chair (Youth), Conservative Party 9:40 pm, 8th December 2009

I have little time, so I will not give way. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.

We also heard from my right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood, who talked about how his drive for efficiencies when he was in office has, in many respects, set the tone for what can be achieved. He expressed real concern about the waste and incompetence that we have seen in recent years.

We never fail on these occasions to hear from Mr. Slaughter. I nearly renamed him the hon. Member for Shepherd's Bush, because Ealing and Acton never seem to get a look in. Residents in that area have an MP who does not talk about their council much. He did talk about residents getting a bad deal from Hammersmith and Fulham council, but it must have been 10 times worse when his party was running the council.

We also heard an important contribution from my hon. Friend James Brokenshire who sensitively and carefully pointed out the pressures on care budgets for the elderly, many arising from demographic changes that will be hard to deal with, however hard we try. He was right to raise his concerns about the cuts to the freedom pass, which enables many elderly people across London to remain independent in their day-to-day lives, which is critical.

In the speech we just heard, Mr. Pelling rightly made the case for his constituents. That is an example of why having an oral statement rather than a written one is so important to Members' ability to do their job and represent their communities.

The bottom line is that, however Ministers dress it up, council tax has doubled under this Government and is set to rise further-way above the current rate of inflation. As we have heard, next year, residents in many parts of the country can expect rises of 3 per cent.-well above inflation-which will push up many people's council tax to £1,500 a year. In a recession on the scale of the present one, that is unaffordable for many people.

Why are councils under so much pressure? It is partly because they have extra burdens. A raft of initiatives has been pushed down on them by Ministers. So many initiatives have been inflicted on them that the proportion of individual, area and specific grants that are ring-fenced has risen from about 4 per cent. of the grant in 1997 to 15 per cent. now. Councils are less and less able to deliver flexible services for their residents. In fact, the Local Government Association worked out that if councils had more flexibility, they could save £900 million a year. That is surely worth having to reinvest in better local services. The bottom line is that we need our councils to set their priorities locally and deliver them locally, but they cannot do that under the current Government.

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