Local Government Financing

Part of Opposition Day — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 5:19 pm on 29th June 2010.

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Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Labour, Denton and Reddish 5:19 pm, 29th June 2010

May I take this opportunity to say how pleasing it is to have not one but two Lancastrians as Deputy Speakers?

I draw the House's attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests. I rent a constituency office from Tameside council and have parking permits from both Tameside and Stockport.

I pay tribute to the work done by all councillors, irrespective of party affiliation. Having served as a local councillor for 12 years before entering the House, I fully understand how difficult the role is. It is often a thankless task, yet to serve local communities in local government is also a massive privilege and honour. I do not think we do enough to recognise the work of those who serve in local government.

I also want to place on record my tribute to Councillor Roy Oldham CBE, who served as leader of Tameside metropolitan borough council from 1980 until this year. Those 30 years at the top made him the longest serving council leader in the country, and his achievement in transforming the borough from sleepy backwater into one of the leading metropolitan districts in the country-the best in the north-west according to the Audit Commission-is a testament to his drive and vision to make the borough a leading council. Roy is currently recovering from illness and I wish him well. I am sure the new council leader, Councillor Kieran Quinn, will want to make his mark on the borough too, and build on the excellent achievements of the past few years. It will be a tough job, not least because of the tightening financial situation, but I am sure he will do his best for the area and I have every confidence that Tameside will continue to be at the forefront of local government.

The recent Budget was called the "unavoidable" Budget, and some important choices were made in it that will impact heavily on local government. There was a certain irony in the use of that term, however, as the report earlier this month from the new Office for Budget Responsibility indicated that the previous Government's fiscal plans would have eliminated the bulk of the structural deficit by 2015. So these cuts that go so deep so quickly may not make the economic sense that the Government would have us believe. Clearly, they have decided to go further and faster, but these cuts seem more ideologically driven than based on sound economic fact. We will soon find out both if the Conservative-Liberal Government have been correct and about the wisdom of these actions.

It appears that the local government sector and workers will be facing the worse situation for a generation as the Chancellor tries to cut spending just as the noble Baroness Thatcher did but in half the time. That will mean brutal cuts in the budgets of all Departments. The Chancellor is talking about 25% cuts across the board, but as we are told that the education, health and defence budgets will get off relatively lightly, I strongly suspect that other budgets, such as that for the Department for Communities and Local Government, will have to be cut by much more than a quarter. We will see what the real cost is to these Departments.

I urge caution. We need to be careful in how we address the local government cuts. Many local agencies now work in very close partnership one with another, so a cut in one area may well be to the serious detriment of activities in another. Budget cuts in local government will not be in "silos", as all agencies are now largely linked up. We therefore need to look at the interactions between various services. It is easy to cut the aids and adaptations budgets for adult social services, but if the result of cutting a £100 handrail for an elderly constituent is to have to pay thousands of pounds on a hip operation in the NHS, that will not have saved the public purse.

We must not miss the bigger picture. If the cuts start to dismantle these working arrangements, service provision will be back as it was in the 1980s: Department-based, with no thinking outside the box and little joint thinking. For example, interrupting good local management on antisocial behaviour, family intervention and domestic violence will have a real impact on the communities I represent-on people who truly depend on services that no one else will provide and that no one else is better placed to co-ordinate.

As I have said, the scale of the cuts poses a serious challenge to local authorities' ability to deliver services that meet the expectations of people-in my constituency, especially people who live in Stockport and Tameside-over the coming five years and beyond. The Tameside part of my constituency will be particularly affected. It has been ranked as an area of high deprivation, the 56th most deprived local authority area in England. Already, the changes to the benefits and tax credits will have a disproportionate effect on Tameside residents due to the existing high levels of income deprivation, and may lead to even more people calling on council services in their time of need. This will be happening at the same time as further funding cuts to the council and its partners start to bite-a double whammy for the people of Tameside and the people of Reddish, to whom I will turn later in my remarks.

Tameside had expected to receive some £23.5 million of area-based grant funding in 2010-11. That has been reduced by £2.34 million-about 10%. Services will clearly be cut at a time when demand will inevitably rise, so Tameside is already anticipating and preparing for a number of hard choices over the coming years. The council has developed a medium-term financial strategy. It expects cuts of up to 10% a year for area-based grants and specific grants-about £5 million in total-on top of cuts to formula grant funding and restrictions on council tax, with a possibility of reductions in capital funding as well.

There will also be an impact on voluntary and community sector grant funding, a sector which contributes significantly to the capacity to deliver improved outcomes through community-based work. Activities to provide opportunities to young people may have to be reduced, along with youth provision, which is non-statutory, in order to ensure that work with vulnerable and looked-after children is maintained. It is therefore crucial that the council and its partners be able to maintain their levels of investment, both grant and mainstream, in effective prevention work. This Government must be clear that local government plays a vital role in delivering crucial services across communities and should be a spending priority, rather than its taking more than its fair share of the burden.

I am also extremely concerned about the knock-on implications for regeneration in my constituency. Excellent work has been done by the Denton South Partnership in Haughton Green, one of the deprived parts of my constituency. This has been a model of effective partnership working, bringing together all the agencies such as the council, the primary care trust, the police and local housing associations. I pay tribute to the work of David Howarth, the chair, and all the members of the partnership. However, such a proactive approach to solving problems will go if all the partner agencies face the same budget reductions, which will lead to massive disinvestment in the communities where help is needed most.

I turn briefly to the Stockport part of my constituency, where there is also a great deal of concern. Cuts of £1.69 million to the area-based grant-

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