Local Government Financing

Part of Opposition Day — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 8:12 pm on 29th June 2010.

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Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Labour, City of Durham 8:12 pm, 29th June 2010

Clearly, the hon. Gentleman did not listen to the answer that I gave him and does not understand the impact that a cut to area-based grant and other grants has. As I was saying, there will be cuts not only to extended schools start-up costs, but to the careers service and to the Supporting People budget, so they will affect both young and older people.

The cuts are not just to the public sector. The Government parties have demonstrated again today that they do not understand the links between the public and private sectors. On Friday, I visited one of the private nursing homes in my constituency to discuss the problems that it was experiencing with its budget. The entire business of that private sector delivery organisation is being affected by the requirement for the local authority to raise its residential allowances, which will lead to a loss of jobs in the private sector. It also makes no sense to cut the working neighbourhood fund and the local enterprise growth initiative, especially in Durham, where the unemployment level is higher than the national average.

Do not get me wrong. The council and the regional development agency have worked hard in the last few years to try to ensure that unemployment remained at much lower levels than those experienced in the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s, and they were very successful in that regard. However, they need the working neighbourhood fund and support for local business if they are to ensure that unemployment does not rise further. According to the council, it has received funds in the past for projects to help people into work, deal with worklessness and enhance job creation, but those are the funds that are being cut now. I consider that action to be disgraceful, short-term and short-sighted. It shows no understanding of the need for measures to encourage people to seek employment. Furthermore, the loss of funds from the Home Office will reduce the amount of resources for tackling antisocial behaviour.

I could go on and on with the list, but my main point is that if local people were asked where to make cuts, I very much doubt that they would prioritise cuts in services that seek to tackle antisocial behaviour or help people back into employment. We all know that cuts have to be made, but the top-down way in which these cuts are being inflicted means that local authorities cannot have full control over the areas that they would protect and those in which they would make cuts. It also means that they cannot consult local people. Such a degree of centralisation imposed by the Government parties, whose members say that they support localism and devolution, is breathtaking.

As well as not allowing local government time to produce a sensible framework for reducing the deficit, the Government have provided no clarification in respect of key programmes. In the case of Building Schools for the Future, that is leading to considerable uncertainty in our communities about whether new schools will go ahead. We need clarification as soon as possible. My local authority wants an open dialogue with the Government, and greater consultation within the sector on the timing, extent and detail of future reductions so that they can plan for them properly-and, critically, so that they can ensure that those who are most vulnerable are protected as far as possible from the impact of the cuts that must be made.

Why are the Government parties picking on existing policies-particularly those designed for the long term-that seek to reduce inequality? I have two examples in mind: free school meals and free swimming. The task of protecting and improving health must not depend entirely on the national health service; we also need local policies and services that help our young people to develop healthier lifestyles and a more sensible approach to their eating habits. The way in which the Government's cuts are attacking free school meals will ensure that a central plank is removed from our plans for reducing inequality for the future, and I do not consider that acceptable.

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