Local Government Financing

Part of Opposition Day — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 3:43 pm on 29th June 2010.

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Photo of John Denham John Denham Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 3:43 pm, 29th June 2010

It is useful to have a discussion with a Hampshire MP, as we are both familiar with PUSH, but this is exactly my point: that partnership is very good and very important, but it is limited to the powers held by the local councils. Until those councils are able to help to lead and shape health spending and law and order spending in the area, we will not get the changes that we need.

The hon. Gentleman's second point is also reasonable, but he overstates it. He calculates that Winchester council did not have the budget for Winchester university-well, no, but nor should it. Winchester council did not have the budget for Winchester prison, or for the benefits bill in Winchester. Not every piece of spending is amenable to transfer to local authorities. However-particularly over the last few years, and with local government-we set out strong provision for local government. I am desperate that we should not lose that provision, and not just for the purpose of a party political debate here.

The integration of local services is critical now. If the Government prove me wrong I shall be the happiest person in the world, because we shall then have the chance to deliver front-line services that people want in a way that genuinely saves money. Every Member, on whichever side of the House they sit, should be interested in that debate.

Not so long ago, when he was Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister said, "If you want to know what a Conservative Government would look like, look at Conservative councils."

I am happy to give way to the hon. Member for Mole Valley, if he still wishes to intervene. It seems that he does not.

What the Prime Minister said constituted a fair warning. As some of my hon. Friends have already observed, what we are seeing is not the unavoidable consequence of a global recession or even of a Labour Government. The aim of the Tories, limply propped up by the Liberal Democrats, is and always has been to roll back an effective, caring and active state. Their vision is of the budget airline council, the sink-or-swim council, the no-frills council, where town halls offer only the bare minimum of service and people must pay twice to get a good service. I think of councils such as Wandsworth, whose leader said that the council wanted to

"increase charges as far as possible beyond inflation...It is worth taking a trial and error approach".

I think of councils such as Hammersmith and Fulham, which promise to protect the elderly and then hike up their charges. That council's leader has said:

"To continue building and publicly investing in the 'social rent' template...makes no sense."

I think of the Tory councils in London that want to knock down the homes of secure tenants and offer them insecure homes at a much higher rent, and of the threats to the future of secure council tenancies that the Minister for Housing has never denied. It is all there.

Yes, the country faces hard decisions as we recover from the global recession, but none of that justifies an ideologically driven attack on the basic idea of decent local services provided by well-run councils. We all know what the Tories are up to, but what are the Liberal Democrats doing supporting them? The answer is that they have sold their souls, and have forfeited the right to call themselves a progressive alternative to the Tories.

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