Local Government Financing

Part of Opposition Day — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:48 pm on 29th June 2010.

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Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Labour, Wirral South 6:48 pm, 29th June 2010

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asked me that, because there has been a misapprehension that Labour had no plans when we were in government, and that we did not set any of them out. That is all very convenient, but the proposals were in our March Budget. There was a great deal of discussion about efficiencies, about what we would have done with the future jobs fund and the working neighbourhoods fund, and about how we would have looked at those funding programmes. All the detail is in our March Budget. My problem with the proposals in last week's Budget is not that we have to make cuts or that we have to reduce the deficit; it is the timing.

I want to talk about place shaping, and about the things that make Wirral a great place to live. I have spoken before about the importance of sport, the arts and culture to who we are in Wirral. The cutting of the free swimming programme will not help the Oval sports centre in my constituency to be successful. The cutting of free school meals will not help Grove Street primary school to carry on its great work on increasing food sustainability and nutrition. Getting rid of the libraries modernisation fund will certainly not help Wirral to bring our libraries up to the standard that my constituents expect.

The cuts could, of course, help to reduce the deficit-I do not disagree with that at all-and there are certain efficiencies that we might need to look at. My argument is that we are talking about marginal amounts. Cutting the libraries modernisation fund will not have a massive impact on reducing the deficit. The thing that will reduce the deficit is getting people back into employment. If we cut the deficit at the expense of all the things that people have come to rely on, we shall see a hollowing-out of town centres, and the retreat of the Government from supporting people in the things that they want to do in their lives. I do not think that that would be worth while. The impact of the cuts on employment and on the things in our communities that we hold dear will be very grave in Wirral.

It is worth mentioning the differential impact of the cuts. Wirral will be hit a lot harder than those in nearby Cheshire, or in Oxfordshire, who will not feel the same impact at all. For the past 13 years, the Labour Government made great strides towards resetting the economy. People no longer had to leave Merseyside to get a job. We have done great work on that, and it needed to continue. I fear that this withdrawal of the state from our area will result in our sliding back into the problems we had before. The Government's proposals represent a withdrawal of activist government.

The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Andrew Stunell, has spoken about removing layers of government, as though it were possible simply to cut away pieces of the work being done by regional development agencies or local authorities, and to hand the money over to someone else in the expectation that the work would still be done. My experience of local authorities might be limited, but I believe that to be unrealistic. The regeneration practices that local authorities have developed should be prized and used, and their proactive work with RDAs should not be overturned overnight in order to remove a layer of government. That is phraseology for the sake of it, and I do not think that it will help our country to develop economically.

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