Local Government Financing

Part of Opposition Day — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:04 pm on 29th June 2010.

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Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Labour, Salford and Eccles 6:04 pm, 29th June 2010

We would have made cuts because of the deficit; we have been absolutely straightforward about that. However, we would not have taken an extra £40 billion out of the economy while the recovery was fragile. Wanting to get rid of the deficit totally in the space of one Parliament is reckless and damaging. We will see the effects in each of our communities in the months and years to come.

The one thing that I think we would have protected are the programmes to get people back to work. If we get people back to work, they will pay tax and national insurance and we will not pay out for them in benefits. That is basic common sense. Cutting the future jobs fund and the working neighbourhoods fund, and making sure that the young people involved face the dole, is totally the wrong approach.

We have said that there should be no return to the 1980s. I remember that, in the 1980s, two of my wards in Salford had 50% male unemployment-half the men were out of work. There was 70% youth unemployment. That sounds Dickensian now; it sounds like 100 years ago, but it was not. It was only in the 1980s, as a result of that last Tory recession. There is no way in the world that we Labour Members want to go back to those days.

In Salford, we were also eagerly awaiting a Kickstart bus service. That sounds like a small affair, but it would have linked the whole of the outer part of Salford with MediaCity and Salford Quays. There are fantastic opportunities in MediaCity for getting new jobs in the creative and digital industries. We need to have public transport, so that people in our outlying areas can take advantage of those new jobs. That bus service is now under threat as a result of the cuts. Does it not make sense to fund a bus service to enable people to access the jobs on offer, instead of asking-or even forcing-them to move home? That is simple, basic common sense, but the provision is going to be cut.

We have seen cuts of £600 million in the housing programme, £300 million of that on the market renewal pathfinder programmes-all are targeted at low-demand areas in the north of England. Again, we are seeing the Thatcherite cuts and the north-south divide, with a disproportionate effect on northern cities. We are also likely to see damaging cuts to the police services. If there are going to be 25% cuts-at the Home Office, for example-that will involve about 4,000 police community support officers. The Minister is a Greater Manchester Member of Parliament. I should like to hear from him just what effect the cuts will have on the number of PCSOs in Greater Manchester; as I am sure he will know, PCSOs are hugely valued by the community.

As the Secretary of State knows, I am always a constructive politician. I should like to say a word or two about the Total Place programme, which I set up when I was Secretary of State. It is not simply about squeezing out efficiencies-yes, it is about bringing back-office services together, having call centres, not having 10 personnel departments and not duplicating all our services, but it is also about much more than that. It is about integrating services, redesigning the whole way in which public services work, bringing together the budgets of policing, health, education, regeneration and economic development and saying to a local area, "That's your total budget. What are your priorities? What do you want to get out of that investment?" The local area then has the freedom to decide.

In Cumbria, total public expenditure on all those services is about £6 billion. That is a lot of money by anybody's reckoning, and I genuinely believe that if there is imagination and creativity about public service reform, we can make some cuts and big savings without necessarily affecting the front-line services on which all our people depend. Today I found out from the Library that the figure in Greater Manchester is £22 billion. If we bring together health, education and policing in Greater Manchester, we will see that we often deal with the same families with multiple problems, each relating to those public services.

When I was policing Minister and responsible for antisocial behaviour, we brought in the family intervention projects. We were spending £250,000 on each of the families involved; multiple interventions were not really changing their behaviour. When we got one worker with sufficient clout in the system to get health, education and policing all working together, the families cost us about £30,000. We called the worker a "muscular social worker"-and I can tell Members that they had to be pretty muscular. Doing that saved money, and 80% of the families changed their behaviour sufficiently for them no longer to face eviction for antisocial behaviour. The initiative saved money, was commonsensical and it worked.

I urge the Government not to look at Total Place as simply an administrative, efficiency measure; it is actually about fundamental service redesign. The Department for Communities and Local Government will need to press every other part of the Government to get on board. We have all tried our best, but Government Departments build empires and take power back to themselves. If we simply have cuts across the board without using our intellects and imaginations, we will not make the progress that we want.

The Secretary of State has said that his priorities are localism, localism and localism. What we have seen today has given the lie to that. There has been no consultation with local government about the cuts. There has been no transparency; we do not know where £500 million of cuts are going to fall. There has been no involvement of local people. The Secretary of State's promise has proved about as meaningful as the Liberal Democrat pledge on VAT. He has a long way to go.

The cuts are a bit like those of the 1980s, as they are targeted on the poorest. There is at least one other consistency. When the Secretary of State was leader of Bradford city council, he was known-perhaps not entirely affectionately-as "the beast of Bradford". Teachers, caretakers, maintenance workers, crèche and nursery staff, social workers and council officers all lost their jobs. His ambition was to cut £50 million from the council budget and turn it into a holding company that met two or three times a year when the contracts would be handed out. Under the control of the right hon. Gentleman, Bradford city council was described as an example of Thatcherism at its most red-blooded. I wonder whether he told the people of Bradford this morning what he had in store for them. Heaven knows what he has in store for us, but we Labour Members will protect the poorest and most vulnerable, who depend on our council services. We will have no return to the Thatcherite 1980s.

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