I beg to move,
That this House
notes with concern that local councils will lose, on average, 27 per cent. of their funding over the next four years, compared to 11 per cent., on average, for Whitehall departments;
regrets the frontloading of reductions in funding which means that the heaviest cuts will fall in the first year;
believes that the unexpected severity of the cuts will result in substantial job losses in the public and private sector, undermine the voluntary sector and hit frontline services;
regrets the inadequate level of capitalisation available to local councils to deal with redundancy costs of up to £2 billion;
further notes the commitment in the coalition agreement to ensure that fairness is at the heart of decisions and that those most in need are protected;
is disappointed that the most deprived areas will be hit hardest by the reductions in funding;
and calls on the Government to revise its proposals before making the provisional finance settlement to ensure that any reductions in funding are more evenly spread over four years and do not fall disproportionately on the most deprived communities.
There is common cause across the House in recognising the need to reduce the deficit. Labour had a plan to halve Britain's borrowing over a four-year period. That would have meant cuts in spending and would have resulted in reductions to local government funding, but not like the Government's cuts. I will not let the coalition pass the blame for cuts of their choosing, their design and their timing on to us. Let me, once and for all, nail the myth that there is no alternative. The Government had a choice.
That would be reasonable position for the right hon. Lady to adopt if she set out in some detail how Labour's programme of cuts would impact on local government.
We are dealing with a package, which is what local councils will face. Even on the coalition Government's most extravagant predictions of what we might have cut, with which I do not concur, the cuts proposed by the coalition Government, of whom the right hon. Gentleman is an ally, would have meant another £2.2 billion worth of cuts over a four-year period, and they are front-loaded in a way that is dangerous for local communities and the services that they need.
Is my right hon. Friend amazed to hear that question, bearing in mind that the Government have not announced what cuts are to take place? It is likely that local authorities will not know that until December, giving them just a few months to adjust the budget.
My hon. Friend is right: we do not know what the settlement announcement will be at this stage, but what we do know is that local authorities have been told that they will face cuts of 27% in their funding over a four-year period. As I will set out in more detail, much of that is being front-loaded in an incredibly short period of time, which makes no sense at all.
Does my right hon. Friend realise that Coventry city council, for example, will lose not only front-line staff, but £45 million over the next two or three years in different types of grants? Is that not an horrendous thing to inflict on the people of Coventry?
It is absolutely dreadful. As we will see in this debate, not only are the cuts unfair for the whole of local government; they will attack the poorest communities up and down the country. That is neither fair nor right, and it is not something that we would have done. This Government had a choice. They have chosen to cut deeper and faster, taking a huge gamble with jobs and growth. They could have shared the reductions in spending between Whitehall and town halls, but instead, they have chosen to dump cuts on local councils up and down the country. The Government could have spread the cuts evenly over four years, giving councils time to plan where savings could be made, but instead they chose to front-load them, so that councils are crippled by the heaviest cuts falling in the first year.
The irony of the hon. Gentleman's point of view is that the most affluent areas will benefit from the freeze in council tax and the transition payments that the Government are providing. Those in the poorest areas, with the lowest amount of take from council tax, will have a double whammy, because to pay for the council tax freeze, the 2.5% is being top-sliced from the formula grant. The Government could have ensured that the cuts were spread fairly, but their choice was not to do so. Those are the risks that they are prepared to take. The danger is that communities up and down the country will pay the price, and we will not let the Government forget it.
"Regions like Greater Manchester will not suffer disadvantage under the coalition government...If anything the regions will be protected and supported to ensure they grow"?
With Salford council facing £40 million to £45 million of devastating cuts and West Oxfordshire district council-which contains Witney, the Prime Minister's constituency -getting a 37% increase, how can this possibly mean that regions such as Greater Manchester are to be protected?
As usual, my right hon. Friend makes an excellent point, based on facts, and the facts are that the cuts to local government will have a devastating impact on our poorest communities. Not only that, but local authorities up and down the country, of whatever political persuasion, are facing a huge task in having to tackle the front-loading of cuts in a matter of weeks, which is not good for either services, jobs or communities.
The Government like to talk about localism-about devolving power to local councils and empowering local communities. In fact, the coalition agreement boldly states that the Government will
"promote the radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups."
Well, the cuts have come, but we are still waiting for the localism. For all their talk of localism, this Government have imposed the largest cuts to local government funding for a generation-cuts that are much deeper than those to other Departments or those originally forecast in the Budget in June; cuts that fall heaviest in the first year and hit the most deprived communities. So much for fairness, localism, and devolving powers to local councils and community groups. The only thing that this Government want to devolve is the blame for difficult decisions.
I do, and whether in local government, education or health, it is the poorest and vulnerable who are being hit the hardest, as well as those hard-working families who pay their way, but who also depend on local services to provide for themselves and their families. They do not ask for much from the Government, but they ask for them to be on their side-to make sure that work pays and that they can look after their families-and this Government are not providing that security. The whole House knows why that has happened-why local councils will lose almost one third of their funding over the next four years.
A debate about local government is welcome, because local government and its financing are important, but as the right hon. Lady launches her attack on the Government, as she is entitled to do, will she make her position clear,? Did not her Government, when in office, say that there would be a £52 billion cut in public services? How much of that would have fallen on local government? Was the decision to end the working neighbourhoods fund and to cut regeneration funding not taken in March by her Government's Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was in office?
On the working neighbourhoods fund, I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has fallen into his Tory coalition partners' trap. The Tories say, and he repeats the claim, that we planned to scrap the working neighbourhoods fund and had already cut money from it. In the March Budget we did announce savings, including £300 million through rationalising the regional development agencies, but we clearly distinguished between those programmes that were not a priority and would therefore be scrapped and those, including the working neighbourhoods fund, to which we were committed but would look to find savings in. It was a three-year programme in which, in November 2009-[Hon. Members: "Three years."]. Three years' funding is more than the one year that we used to have under Tory Governments, and more than the non-existent funding that poorer communities had under the Tory Government from 1979 to 1997.
Indeed, in November 2009 we announced a £40 million boost to the fund, worth £1.5 billion from 2008-09 to 2009-10. Of course, we had to look at programmes, but there is no evidence whatever to suggest that we would have scrapped the working neighbourhoods fund. That is not the case.
The right hon. Lady talks about devolution, but her Government took £13 million out of the housing budget in Harlow, where 45% of housing is social housing. The current Government are ending that and guaranteeing Harlow housing money for Harlow people.
I am afraid that is rubbish. The Labour Government, in so many different ways, contributed not only to boosting the refurbishment of homes that had been left to languish for too many years under the Tory Government, but to ensuring that there were ways and means for local councils, with other housing providers, to provide more homes.
The National Housing Federation, I think I am correct in repeating, says that, once the homes that Labour funded in its last period in office have been built, under the coalition Government's plans, no more homes will be built. In relation- [ Interruption. ] The Minister for Housing and Local Government says "nonsense", but let us just wait and see, because even in a time of recession, it was Labour money that worked in partnership with others-[Hon. Members: "Taxpayers' money".] It was taxpayers' money with which a Labour Government decided that we should promote the building of more social homes. Even in the teeth of recession, I think we built at least 55,000 homes to provide for people who could not afford a house on the private market.
We all know why that front-loaded package is happening: because the Secretary of State gives the impression of being more interested in trashing local councils, chasing cheap headlines, calling councillors stupid or lazy and telling local authorities to grow up. The hundreds of thousands of decent, honest, hard-working people who work in local government, and the millions of people who depend on the services and support that they provide, hardly seem to warrant a second thought, but they will be the ones who pay the price for this Government's decisions.
To make matters worse, local councils are being forced to make deeper cuts than they expected and to do so much quicker, because the reductions in local government funding are front-loaded. As much as 50% of the cuts could fall in the first year. Councillors are looking at cuts of 14%, 16% or 18% to their budgets within weeks, but the Secretary of State still denies it. He says that it is a fiction, but he is about the only person left who still thinks so.
I hope that the right hon. Lady will not forget that from 1997 onwards the then Deputy Prime Minister, the Secretary of State responsible for local government funding, changed the formulas three times, each occasion moving money north to Labour authorities and away from London and the south-east. In one year, the year-on-year effect in Surrey, for example, was a £39 million loss.
I think I am right in saying that, for every year we were in power, there was an above inflation increase in local government spending. I am not going to apologise for trying to show leadership in addressing need, inequality and poverty in this country. Perhaps that is something that the Secretary of State and his hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench do not want to champion anymore.
My right hon. Friend talked about the cuts being front-loaded. Figures from Newham council suggest that a large proportion of the nearly £40 million cuts for Newham-13% of the 25% total cuts that are being proposed by the Government-will take place in year one.
That is another example of the devastating impact of the cuts in the first year. I say to the Secretary of State: is that a fiction?
I am very much looking forward to the missives I can hear being typed out in town halls in London and across the country to put the Secretary of State right on that one.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the changes to the grant system are only putting right what the previous Tory Government had done? When I was the leader of St Helens council, the then Tory Government, in one year, took more than £13 million of grants from St Helens-a deprived community-to give to their friends.
As he did during a Westminster Hall debate last week, my hon. Friend lays out the real choices that are being made here about fairness and unfairness. What is happening is unfair and is not right.
Talking of hypocrisy, does the right hon. Lady agree with her party's leader, the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central, who said on the "Today" programme in April, "as we look forward" regeneration spending is
"not the biggest priority we face" as there are "other competing priorities."? Is that not hypocrisy writ large?
As I opened the debate, I did not hesitate for a moment to say that reductions and cuts would have had to be made. The question is how much, how deep and how fast. It is not just Labour politicians who are saying that; the chair of the Local Government Association, Baroness Eaton, a Conservative peer said:
"The unexpected severity of the cuts that will have to be made next year will put many councils in an unprecedented and difficult position."
I could not have put it better myself.
I will give way shortly.
Grahame Lucas, the President of the Society of District Council Treasurers, said that front-loading was happening -not that it was fiction, Mr Secretary of State-and that its consequences would be disastrous. Even the Secretary of State's Parliamentary Private Secretary, Stephen Hammond knows that there is a problem. At County Councils Network conference on
"has exercised ministers for some time".
He asked them to "wait for the settlement." Who knows, perhaps today's debate and the cries from their own people across the country will have an impact. Today, we are trying to tell the Government that they should listen and try to do something to avert the disaster that will happen in a few weeks' time.
I thank my constituency neighbour for giving way to me. May I say gently and in the most friendly way possible, that I served on a metropolitan northern authority for 10 years and the picture was not quite as rosy? Although there might well have been some extra resources, all too often, what came with that were huge burdens that were not fully funded-whether that was free swimming, local bus passes or whatever. Local tax payers, who are some of the poorest tax payers, had to pick up the bill.
The hon. Gentleman is indeed a neighbour of mine in Yorkshire. Correct me if I am wrong, but I cannot remember that there were many Tory-controlled councils that did not want free swimming when it was being offered or that did not want a number of other benefits for their communities. However, I would have to say to the hon. Gentleman, in the nicest possible way, that if people thought it was not rosy then, they must now be in despair about what is ahead.
We are hearing from councillors of all parties that if councils are not given enough time to plan which cuts to make, they will be forced into making rushed decisions with no time to plan for the consequences, which could end up costing more than they save.
I will give way shortly to hon. Friends and to Government Members. I want to be generous because this is such an important issue.
The Secretary of State-I agree with him on this-wants councils to think how they might transfer assets to the community, which we enabled when we were in government, and involve voluntary groups and share back-room functions, which we also encouraged when we were in government. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the principle, but it cannot be done in a few rushed months: it takes time and planning, which the Government refuse to give to local authorities. As a result, the worry is that councils will simply go for the easiest and quickest cuts instead of thinking about how they save money while minimising service cuts and job losses.
The right hon. Lady said that we are apparently yet to see any localism or devolution to local government, but does she concede that greater flexibilities and the ending of the ring-fencing of many budgets will give exactly the flexibilities that many local communities need? It will certainly be welcomed by my local authority, West Sussex county council, which suffered eight years of the lowest possible Government settlements under the previous Government.
I recognise the hon. Gentleman's experience in local government; I believe he was leader of West Sussex county council.
The Secretary of State says that local councils have a choice:
"They can panic; they can slash and burn services regardless of the impact that will have. Or they can take the opportunity to completely rethink everything they are doing, creating a modern, flexible and innovative council."
Councils should be modern and should embrace flexibility and innovation, but by imposing such huge, unprecedented front-loaded cuts on them he denies them that very choice. How can councils completely rethink everything in a matter of a few weeks?
Does my right hon. Friend think that we have here a re-run of the '80s, when the Conservatives cut the rate support grant and the housing allocation, local authorities were forced to sell old people's homes and there were reductions among teachers and front-line staff. The House should not be filled up with that lot over there-they are using the recession as an excuse to inflict Thatcherite policies. Last week the Prime Minister admitted to being a child of Thatcher. Does not this House recognise what is going on right under its nose?
It is actually worse than the '80s, because these cuts are deeper and faster, and they leave local government with very little choice. There are positive aspects to devolving power; we did a lot of it while we were in power. [ Interruption. ] It is true. I know that the Secretary of State likes to issue his diktats from the Department like some Joe Stalin, but rewriting history is a stretch too far.
My right hon. Friend is making a characteristically powerful case against the front-loading of these cuts. I ask her, as I hope to ask the Secretary of State, to consider whether, as there is apparently likely to be a £3 billion surplus in national non-domestic rates, it would be a good idea to distribute that sum to smooth out the effects of the cuts next year and the following year. Would that not seem to be an eminently sensible course of action that may well commend itself across the House?
I understand that the Secretary of State has had a letter from John Merry on this important issue. What we are asking is pretty reasonable. We are saying: "Have another look. See whether you can stagger these cuts in a better way. See if you can dampen the cuts to tackle inequality, but also look at other opportunities that are available to get this right by minimising the impact on front-line services and the unnecessary loss of jobs." That is what we are talking about: the people who will pay the price in their jobs.
My right hon. Friend rightly talks of what we did in government. Does she share my amazement and that of many hon. Members at the joviality of Government Members? In their first few months in office, the Government ignored the impetus that had been created by the Labour Government with Total Place? The Government had to be dragged, screaming, by their advisers to reconsider, and even then they renamed it.
There is a rewriting of history with regard to these good ideas. When I picked up one of the Sunday newspapers to read about changes to planning, I recognised a few changes that had been initiated when I was Minister for Housing and Planning and had been carried on by my right hon. Friend John Healey. Total Place was a very good idea. It was a system by which different organisations came together in common cause to tackle challenges in the community, and to share their funding and budgets. The scheme has had two names since the coalition Government came to power: place-based budgets and community-based budgets. The fact is, it was our idea. I am sure that my hon. Friend Mr Marsden will agree that such innovation is all very well, but that it is difficult to imagine the Total Place concept hitting the ground running in the context of the cuts faced not only in local government but in policing and through the reorganisation of primary care trusts.
The right hon. Lady is being most generous in giving way. May I clarify her position on cuts? She seems to be saying that her party would cut more slowly than the Government. Does she understand the implications of that? It would mean the Government borrowing more and paying more interest, because they would be borrowing over a longer period. Does she really think that taxpayers would thank a Labour Government for paying back money on their behalf to foreign Governments such as the Chinese Government?
The price being paid in this country is that of people being put on the dole and therefore not paying tax. The price will be paid by local economies and private businesses that depend on local government contracts and by the voluntary sector, which depends on local government to fund its services. There are prices to be paid and choices to be made. We would not have chosen to front-load the cuts in such a way as to fundamentally break the fabric of our communities.
Organisations that research this issue have shown that parts of the country, through no fault of their own, depend on public sector jobs to keep their communities afloat. Despite all the warm words in Government statements, the coalition agreement and the comprehensive spending review document about fairness and protecting the most vulnerable communities, there has been little sign in the statements of the Secretary of State, the Chancellor and the Prime Minister of how they will ensure that the cuts do not disproportionately affect our poorest communities. I hope we will hear something in the financial settlement. That is why we are having this debate today. At the moment, I am afraid that Government Front Benchers are not listening.
Does my right hon. Friend appreciate the alarm that the people of Barrow and Furness are experiencing? According to modelling in yesterday's Local Government Chronicle, their community could be among the top three places in the country to experience the deepest cuts, despite its having many of the most deprived areas.
My hon. Friend's point about his constituency applies to others. It is clear that some of the most deprived communities in our country face the biggest impact and the brunt of the cuts, not those who are better off. I wish that every area was better off, but it is not like that. That is why we must tackle inequality and be fair. We must be a civilised and decent society, but that is not what is going on.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that it is not only deprived communities that will suffer because of the way in which the cuts are being implemented, but women-and thereby children-because they make up approximately 73% of local authority employees?
My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. About 74% of those who work in local government are women. It is rather ironic that on the day the Fawcett Society is again challenging the coalition Government's Budget in court because of its disproportionate effect on women and children, women are yet again being asked to pay the price. Women who work in local government, often part-time at the lower end of the pay scale, face the complete disruption of their family and working life.
I have been very generous in taking interventions, and I am conscious of the number of Members who wish to speak in the debate. [Interruption.] I do not think that hon. Members can accuse me of not being generous in giving way. I will take more interventions later, but I should like to make a bit of progress.
The hon. Gentleman heard what I had to say-I am going to make a bit of progress, but I may take more interventions later.
People will pay the price with their jobs. The Secretary of State likes to give the impression that savings can be made without causing job losses, as though simply by freezing recruitment, natural wastage, redeploying people and scrapping or sharing back-room functions, local councils will find the savings they need to make without hitting front-line services. Local councils cannot deliver such savings so quickly on top of the £1 billion of savings they have already made this year without cutting jobs or reducing services. Paul Carter, the Tory Kent council leader, said:
"There is only one way of bringing budgets into line. One is to employ less people and the other is to do fewer things."
In fact that is two, but I take his point. Up and down the country, local authorities are already cutting vital front-line services and shedding staff.
No, I will not give way.
Councils are cutting not just staff in back-room functions but teaching assistants, social workers and street cleaners-hundreds of thousands of people delivering essential front-line services. There will be 140,000 of them this year alone, according to the Local Government Association, which has upped its prediction from 100,000. In Birmingham, 26,000 staff have been warned that they could lose their jobs, and in Bradford the figure is 10,000. They, along with the people who depend on the services they provide, will pay the price for the coalition Government's choices.
It is no good the Government trying to use last week's Office for Budget Responsibility forecast to obscure the heavy job losses that will be inflicted on local government. The OBR forecast shows that Whitehall Departments will lose fewer staff than had been feared, because the cuts were slightly less than had been predicted in the Budget. However, the cuts to local government are deeper and faster than had been expected, and, as a result, the LGA says that more workers, not fewer, will lose their jobs this year-40,000 more of them, all because the Government chose to impose such heavy front-loaded cuts on local councils.
No, I will not.
It is unclear how local councils will meet the costs of laying off so many staff. The LGA believes that redundancy costs alone could be as high as £2 billion, but the Government's capitalisation arrangements, which were set up to help councils with the cost of cutting jobs, come to only £200 million. That could be as little as one tenth of what is needed. If councils are not given more support and more flexibility to cover the costs of redundancy payments, it will simply mean more cuts elsewhere and ever deeper cuts to vital front-line services.
Local councils cannot deliver the savings they need simply by trimming a few salaries at the top, scrapping council newspapers or encouraging councils to dip into their reserves. Local councils have a duty to find the best deal for council tax payers, which includes ensuring that councils' executives are not paid over the odds. Labour introduced more transparency in chief executive pay, and restraint is vital, particularly in the current economic climate. It is absolutely fanciful, however, to suggest that reducing a handful of executive salaries across the country will solve the problem of huge front-loaded cuts, and the Secretary of State knows it.
In a moment.
Nor is encouraging councils to dip into their reserves any sort of solution. As the Secretary of State well knows, most of the money is already earmarked for specific purposes. I had a look at the reserves in Ministers' areas compared with those of our shadow team and found that their areas have £100 million more reserves in their bank accounts than ours. Burnley, one of the areas likely to be hit hardest by cuts in funding, could lose anything between 25% and 29% of its funding over the next four years, and it has just £1.1 million in unallocated reserves. Unless the Secretary of State wants to nationalise council reserves and redistribute them to the councils hardest hit by the cuts, this is just another red herring.
Let us be in no doubt that cuts of this magnitude and imposed this quickly will hit front-line services. Roads damaged last winter will go unrepaired this year, too; potholes will go unfixed, pavements will go unswept, street lights will be turned off, youth clubs will close, libraries will shut and, at a time when more people than ever need help with social care, fewer will find their local council able to help.
The right hon. Lady mentioned a handful of council chief executives who make significant salaries. In fact, a total of 129 make more money than the Prime Minister.
What I said is on the record. I am not going to defend some of the pay in local government, but the Secretary of State has appointed a new permanent secretary on, I think, £170,000 a year. He had the chance to ensure that he earned less than the Prime Minister, but he refused to do so. To claim that chief executives' pay equates to the level of cuts that local government are facing is to live in fantasy land-it is ridiculous.
The poorest communities will be the hardest hit. The Government have made much of their commitment to fairness. The coalition agreement reads:
"Difficult decisions will have to be taken in the months and years ahead, but we will ensure that fairness is at the heart of those decisions so that all those most in need are protected."
Those are fine words, but the Secretary of State's own figures show that the councils worst hit over the four-year settlement include Hastings, Burnley, Blackburn with Darwen, Hull, Barrow-in-Furness and Hartlepool-all in the 10% most deprived councils in the country-along with Liverpool city council, which is the most deprived local authority in England.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is unbelievable and wrong that children and young people in particular are facing enormous cuts? Youth services throughout the country are being destroyed, and youth workers throughout the country are getting their redundancy notices. Young people are only young once and need support and services now-it is no good their having them in the future-and they should not be paying a disproportionate cost in the cuts.
I am afraid that the coalition Government clearly do not care. On top of what they are doing to local government, they are scrapping the education maintenance allowance, which is the best chance to get young people to stay on in education or training at 16 and possibly go on to university or other further education courses. They have scrapped the future jobs fund and the working neighbourhoods fund, much of which was directed at ensuring that young people did not leave school and enter a period of inactivity, whether out of work or training and education. They simply do not care.
From what the right hon. Lady said, it seems that the more prudent councils have been preparing for this day for a couple of years, but many councils across the country have not been so prudent. Should she not aim her anger at councils that have been wasting money, increasing council tax and providing poor services over the past few years, rather than at Government Front Benchers, who are trying to do something about it?
Here we go again-let us bash local government and local councillors up and down the country trying to do their best, and let us tell them it is their fault. I do not think there is a local authority in the country that was preparing for this level of cuts. The suggestion is quite ridiculous.
As the MP for Burnley, which has been mentioned on numerous occasions, I would like to advise Members that the Liberal Democrat-controlled council is doing its best under the circumstances. Does the right hon. Lady remember that in the last three years of the Labour Government Burnley received a 0.5% increase in grant from national Government? The Labour Government nailed councils to the wall in their last three years by not financing them properly. It is strange that she is having a go at the coalition Government given that Labour bankrupted the country in the first place.
I would rather defend an increase, no matter how small, than defend the indefensible, as is happening here today.
Let us look at the disparities. As I have said, a number of councils, including Burnley, are facing the most devastating cuts. At the same time, a handful of district councils in the south-east, including South Cambridgeshire and West Oxfordshire-two of the least deprived areas in the country-could see not a reduction but an increase of up to 30% in their funding, as a consequence of funding that was previously ring-fenced for deprived authorities being rolled into the overall grant.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has managed to give way. She mentioned Burnley, the neighbouring constituency to my own. Housing market renewal worth £9 million to Burnley and £8 million to Hyndburn has just been cut, and the working neighbourhoods fund, which is worth £2 million, has also been slashed. Burnley borough council has been funded in the past two or three years by enormous sums from the Government, as has Hyndburn, and I do not accept the point made by my colleague, Gordon Birtwistle.
I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman, and I will not do so again.
How is it fair that the communities most reliant on public sector employment will lose the greatest number of jobs? How is it fair that the areas most in need will find their services most cut? How is it fair that the communities least able to shoulder the brunt of cuts to local councils will bear the heaviest burden? Yet that is exactly what will happen, as the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Robert Neill let slip earlier in the year, when he said:
"Those in greatest need ultimately bear the burden of paying off the debt".-[ Hansard, 10 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 450.]
The same is true of the Government's plans for a council tax freeze. It might sound fair, but it is not, because it gives the most to the wealthier councils with the biggest council tax yield-the councils with the broadest base of middle and high band properties-and the least to poorer councils with more modest properties. This involves money that has been top-sliced from local councils' funding, resulting in a double whammy for our poorest areas.
It is not just people who work in local government who will lose out. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country who work in the private sector-plumbers, builders, electricians, IT companies and office suppliers-depend on local council contracts. Local councils spend nearly £35 billion every year procuring services and supplies from the private sector, with more than £20 billion going to small and medium-sized businesses. Some of those firms rely on public sector contracts for 50% or 60% of their business, and if local council contracts dry up, some of them will have to lose staff and might even go out of business altogether. PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasts that for every job lost in the public sector, another will be lost in the private sector, so cuts in local government funding will hit not just those who work in local government and those who rely on its services, but the wider local economy.
What of the Government's suggestion that if local councils do less, voluntary groups will miraculously emerge and seamlessly fill the gap left by local authorities? The week before last, the Secretary of State warned the House that local councils would "rue the day" they cut funding to voluntary organisations, but what choice will they have? When nearly a third of voluntary organisations rely on funding from local authorities, and local authorities are losing nearly a third of their funding-much of it this year-voluntary groups will lose out. Local councils and voluntary groups are not adversaries-they work together and rely on each other. Voluntary groups reach parts of the community and fulfil certain roles that local councils sometimes cannot, and local councils have the resources and support at their disposal that voluntary groups do not always have. Without each other, they are both weakened.
I am indebted to the right hon. Lady for giving way. It is nice to hear her support for the big society and voluntary groups, but she seems to have rather a selective memory. May I remind her of the BBC report published on
Order. Before the right hon. Lady responds, I will make two points. First, interventions are becoming rather long and need to get shorter. Secondly, for the good conduct of the debate, I want to touch on an earlier intervention by Stephen Lloyd. I did not hear it clearly at the time, but reference was made to the alleged hypocrisy of another Member. Such references must not be made on the Floor of the House. Making a personal accusation of hypocrisy is disorderly. I recognise that the hon. Gentleman is a new Member, but I hope that what I have said will be helpful for the House as a whole.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will not hold the hon. Gentleman too harshly to account for what he said in the heat of the debate.
We must recognise that the deficit has to be reduced-and we do. [Interruption.] We have been very clear about that. There are choices to be made, however, about how far and how deep the cuts should be. What does Christopher Pincher have to say to Baroness Margaret Eaton, Tory leader of the Local Government Association, who only last week issued a press release on the "unprecedented" levels of the cuts and the impact of front-loading? It is not just Labour people talking about this- [Interruption.] I hear an hon. Gentleman shout "What would you do?" from a sedentary position. We would not front-load the cuts in this way for a start, and we would not have gone as deep.
Is it not clear that people will judge the Government not on the cuts, but on how they are distributed. So far, what we know is that they will hit the most deprived. Is that not what it is all about?
I am afraid that there is another motivation, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the deficit. I think I am right in saying that the Office for Budget Responsibility report suggested that a surplus would start to appear in a few years' time. Given how the coalition Government like to sing from the rafters about OBR reports, it is a shame that they do not think about areas where they could use that information to minimise the damage of the cuts that local authorities face and adopt a much more thoughtful approach to their impact on the ground.
There is no doubt about it-the impact on local communities up and down the country will be harsh and, I think, undeserved. Whatever plans local authorities might like to make-working with the voluntary sector and the private sector and looking at ways to share functions and of delivering services differently are all, I think, subjects worthy of debate-they can do only so much in the time available. That time is simply not enough.
I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way. My local council in North-West Leicestershire is already right-sizing its top management to protect essential front-line services. Is that not the way forward? She will be well aware that almost a third of Government spending is channelled through local government, so no credible deficit reduction plan can leave local government immune. Without a credible plan, and in the absence of her telling us what a Labour Government would cut instead of local government-perhaps defence, health or education-she has no credibility whatever in the debate.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman in so far as there has to be a sharing of the reductions across the different sectors of public spending, but I do not agree that the disproportionate expectations of local government are fair. I just do not think they are fair. In a less partisan arena, the hon. Gentleman might agree that even if we were to pursue the level of cuts proposed by the Government, it would be worth thinking about staggering them over the four-year period rather than expecting the largest amounts to be cut in the first year. Local authorities have been set an incredible challenge in that respect. In a more reasoned environment, most sensible people would recognise that fact and say, "Let's do something about it before the financial settlement is announced and try to put right some of the wrongs created by the package following the comprehensive spending review."
In so many ways, the motion says that the Government are not listening. Let me tell the House and the country that Labour is listening and that there is an alternative. The financial settlement is yet to be settled; there is time to put this right. Savings need to be found and, yes, cuts will need to be made in local government-but not like this: not in this way and not in this time scale.
Today, the Government have a choice. They can plough ahead with their plans and impose huge cuts on local councils, forcing them to find savings in the next few weeks-councils will have to decide their budgets by February 2011. They can impose cuts that will unnecessarily cost jobs, undermine the voluntary sector, hit front-line services and create huge uncertainty in the private sector. They can force through cuts that will hit the poorest communities the hardest, or they can choose to listen. They can listen to Members throughout the House-publicly or privately-who I know will take the opportunity here today, and in other forums, to speak about the damage that huge front-loaded cuts will cause. They can listen to the people who work in local government and provide the services on which we all rely, often with very little reward. They can listen to the voluntary sector, and to the small business community.
Will the Secretary of State ensure that any reductions in funding are more evenly spread over four years? Will he introduce more flexible capitalisation arrangements, so that local councils are not forced to make even deeper cuts in services and jobs to meet the cost of redundancy payments? Will he introduce damping measures to stop our poorest communities being hit hardest? Those are the three questions that the Secretary of State must answer today.
I commend the motion to the House.
I am most grateful to Caroline Flint. I could hear the gentle scribble of history being rewritten. I think that had Winston Smith been part of the process, he would have been down to his second stub of pencil by now. I would happily have walked into Room 101 just to hear the end of it.
We are really very pleased, in a way, that the motion has been tabled. We in the Department are very sensitive people, and we felt that we had done something wrong as far as the right hon. Lady was concerned. She doesn't phone, she rarely writes, she asks few questions, and she seems to be unaware that we have laid statements. We thought somehow that she was not all that interested. So we are very pleased that she is now back in action, and is taking an interest in the Department. Admittedly it seemed a weird time for her to do so, given that the settlement is just a few days away, but then it occurred to me: she has a plan.
It is all about the business of the blank piece of paper. The right hon. Lady is actually going to write something down. She is going to give us some Labour policy. We are going to be told, in this debate- [Interruption.] I am optimistic. We are going to be told what percentage of cuts the right hon. Lady thinks reasonable. The Local Government Association has already given us a percentage. If the right hon. Lady-who spoke for hardly any time-wants to give us a percentage that she considers reasonable for the coming year, I will happily give way to her.
It is the 1960s that I want to talk about. The Secretary of State is trying to take us back to them. Can he explain why he is front-loading the cuts? Everyone knows that he is doing it because a general election is coming. [Hon. Members: "What?"] Well, he knows when the election will come. Can he tell us why he is front-loading the cuts? It is a simple question.
The hon. Gentleman may be wondering why he is sitting on that side of the House. We have had a general election. His party lost and we won, which is why we are on this side of the House. As for the front-loading- [Interruption.]
Order. The Secretary of State is not a notably softly spoken man, but I am having considerable trouble hearing him. He says that he is a gentle and sensitive soul; that is as may be, but I can normally hear him. There is so much noise in the Chamber that I cannot hear him now, and I want him to be heard.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way so early in what I am sure will be a brilliant speech. Does he agree that although we are very pleased to be having the debate today, it seems from the number of Labour Back Benchers who have turned up that they are not very pleased at all?
There is a point in that, but I have to say to my hon. Friend that we must give all the encouragement we can to the right hon. Lady the shadow Communities Secretary because it is very important that we have an Opposition and if we do so she might table the occasional parliamentary question, in which case we would have an opportunity to come to the-
The right hon. Gentleman appears to be floundering a little at the start of his contribution, and I wonder whether I might, in a constructive spirit, offer him a small lifeline. My right hon. Friend the shadow Communities Secretary has made a powerful case against the front-loading of these cuts. As I understand it, there is a surplus of about £3.4 billion in the national non-domestic rate pool, and the leader of my council in Salford, Councillor John Merry, has written to the Secretary of State suggesting an ingenious way of smoothing out the front-loading of these cuts. If we were to put the £3.4 billion back into the formula grant, that would enable us to reduce some of the devastating impact of that first year of cuts, certainly on Salford council, which is facing cuts of £40 million. If the right hon. Gentleman accepts my lifeline I will be very happy.
I am most grateful to the right hon. Lady for that, and, to start on a positive note, may I say that the entire Front-Bench team likes her new hairstyle?
There is not a £3.5 billion surplus in non-domestic rates in the year coming. There is a potential £2 billion surplus in 2013-14. It is hoped that the new system of local government finance, which I will be making some reference to in the statement, will be in the process of being brought in, so it is theoretical at this stage.
The right hon. Gentleman teased the House a few seconds ago when he told us to wait and see what the financial settlement provides. Local council leaders have been pressing him to give some hint on, and recognition of, the problem of front-loading and whether that can be looked at. Can he not give some steer that the Government have listened to some of those concerns, because at present they are planning for huge cuts, based on what they expect to have to deliver come April 2011-12?
May I reassure the right hon. Lady both that we will be making a statement to the House, unlike last year when the statement was relegated to a written ministerial statement, and that we are going to ensure that the distribution is fair?
I want to make some progress first, but I will give way to the right hon. Lady in due course.
It is reasonable for us to have expected to hear in the speech of the right hon. Member for Don Valley how much she would cut from the budget. What percentage reduction does she want from each tier of local government? If she does not like the phasing, which other Department should be cut more next April?
The Opposition have simply lost touch with financial reality. They have got their head in the sand in respect of the urgent need to tackle the nation's record overdraft and the slide towards a national debt of over £1 trillion. We need to reduce the deficit to keep long-term interest rates down, thereby directly helping families and businesses through the lower cost of loans and mortgages. By reducing spending and restoring the nation's fiscal credibility, we avoid the massive debt interest bills-over £42 billion a year-which is sucking taxpayers' money from front-line services.
We had a choice in the most recent spending review: we could face up to the legacy left by Labour-the crippling public debt, the black hole in the nation's finances-or we could simply let Britain fall into the economic abyss. Looking around Europe, the situation that some of our neighbours continue to face reminds us just how dire the challenges remain.
In a moment.
The financial mess that the coalition has inherited is not just because of big banks; it is because of the irresponsible behaviour of big Government.
I sincerely hope that all Members, on both sides of the House, realise that local government must do its share of reducing expenditure to deal with the public debt and deficit that we inherited. Will the Secretary of State give me one explanation and one assurance? Will he explain why the comprehensive spending review's four-year plan set out a greater reduction in the budget in years 1 and 2 than in year 3? Will he reassure me that, as I think Ministers have heard when we have come to see him in the Department, the whole of this year's funding settlement for local government is being taken into account when the assessment of the reduction is made, not just the direct core funding provided by the grant from central Government?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. The rules are different when sums are being reduced, rather than increased, so it is massively important that we examine all the finance available to local authorities and the gap in spending. I am going to address that most carefully, as I shall do for the precise phasing of the amounts. It is sensible to see these sums taken out at the beginning of the period, because the only way in which local government can approach a 26% reduction is not to salami-slice here and there, but to restructure, share services and the like. If it is going to do that, it had best get on with it.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Hon. Members may not be aware that some authorities, such as Knowsley's, are heavily dependent on grant; if I recall it correctly, the percentage is in the upper 70s-
It appears that that is correct. There are other places, such as Surrey, where we are talking about 20%. If we were dealing with a cut across the board, the effect of an amount coming out of Knowsley's budget would be considerably greater than if it came out of Surrey's. That would not be desirable and we will be putting together a system that offers help.
Despite all the bluster and all the complaint, the Opposition would have made some of the same choices had they clung on to office. Perhaps Opposition Members would not like to be reminded that the Labour Government were quietly planning cuts of £52 billion over the next four years. The Treasury's own figures show that those were front-loaded cuts, with a hit of £14 billion to fall in 2011-12. A small amount of those cuts were made public in the dying days of the previous Administration. The back of a fag packet small print of the March 2010 Budget reveals £480 million of cuts. Those were cuts to regional development agency regeneration, cuts to the working neighbourhoods fund, cuts to the local enterprise growth initiative, cuts to the housing and planning delivery grant, cuts to smaller Department for Communities and Local Government programmes and cuts to time-limited community programmes.
Let us deal directly with the issue of the working neighbourhoods fund. Whether the right hon. Member for Don Valley likes it or not, it was a three-year figure; the programme was coming to the end in March and no money was provided for it to be extended thereafter. We would have been facing precisely the same problem as we are now. Some Members have complained about the end of the working neighbourhoods fund, but we would have been facing this in March.
As was rightly said by my hon. Friend, to whom I shall give way in a moment, the current Labour leader made it very clear during the election that regeneration spending
"is not the biggest priority we face as we look at other competing priorities", and the then Prime Minister said:
"Housing is essentially a private sector activity...I don't see a need for us to continue with such" renovation programmes.
In the past 12 months, Eastbourne borough council restructured its senior management, producing a more dynamic and customer-focused team, while cutting the cost of its senior team by £300,000 a year. Does the Secretary of State agree that other local authorities can follow the example of Eastbourne borough council, saving money for the taxpayer and bringing local authority executive pay under control, which was something that Labour singularly failed to do?
My hon. Friend is right. There is increasingly a trend towards reducing backroom services and I welcome the support from the right hon. Member for Don Valley. Perhaps the clearest message that should go out from the Chamber today is that there is broad consensus on the sharing of services and it would be a very wise chief executive and leader of a council who continued with that process.
Of course, part of the problem is that the so-called operational savings that the Labour party promised were simply not met. When I opened the Department's books, I noticed that almost £1 billion of planned efficiency savings promised by the Department and announced in the 2007 spending review and the 2009 Budget were never delivered by Labour Ministers.
We know that Labour had secret plans for cuts for local communities, but it did not have a route map to get there through constructive reform. The Labour Government had 13 years to improve the system of local government funding but they fluffed it. They introduced 10 different Acts that affected local government finance. They scrapped capping, then they reintroduced it. They gave pensioners an extra payment for their council tax, then they dropped it. They passed a law to hold a council tax revaluation, and then passed a law to delay it. They published a local government finance Green Paper, then a White Paper, then they held a balance of funding review, and then they held the Lyons inquiry review. They then extended the Lyons inquiry review and when the Lyons inquiry reported they did not even bother to issue a formal response.
In the 2010 Labour manifesto, we were promised a cross-party commission on local government finance. Perhaps Labour just ran out of ideas and wanted to ask us. The final Labour initiative, with the third leader in three years, is the famous blank piece of paper. No wonder the shadow Housing Minister, Alison Seabeck, has admitted
"we won't rush into policy making"-
[ Interruption. ] I am glad she has confirmed that. Perhaps they are waiting for the next Labour leader. I suspect that that will not be long now-like with buses, one waits around for ages and three come along pretty quickly.
I am sorry, but if I wanted to visit the 1980s I would watch an episode of "Life on Mars".
I welcome the opportunity to lay to rest some of the reckless scaremongering that the Labour party has peddled in recent weeks, and particularly in the past few moments. We are a few days away from the settlement and it is important that we do not create a climate in which wacky, fictitious figures end up scaring people unnecessarily without adding anything to the debate.
Does the Secretary of State remember the words of the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Darling? Before the last general election, he said that if the Labour Government were re-elected this country faced the biggest cuts in its history. My right hon. Friend might have noticed that that statement has not been repeated by those on the Opposition Front Bench.
I do indeed. From what I can understand from what the right hon. Member for Don Valley was saying, it seems that she is in favour of cuts but not specific cuts. She is in favour of financial prudence, but not if it involves cuts to local authority spending.
The key argument about the forthcoming grant reductions is that the right hon. Lady seems to think that they will be unfair. How she can assert that when she does not know what the settlement will be is a mystery to us all. Opposition Front Benchers point to briefing figures from the pressure group SIGOMA, without realising that they are being played. SIGOMA understandably wants to paint a dire picture for its members as part of a lobbying exercise ahead of the settlement. It is playing metropolitan areas off against shire counties.
The Secretary of State asks why these points are being raised by the Opposition, but he and his colleagues have a record on this issue. The figures and cuts that the Government Front-Bench team produced in June, with the abolition of area-based grants and various other measures, disproportionately hit the parts of the country that we have been talking about.
The hon. Gentleman is well aware that in the emergency Budget we had to prevent money that had not been paid out from being paid-it is difficult to take money from areas that have not received any at all. He seems to think that we live in a vacuum. Has he seen what has gone on in other parts of the continent and the problems that other Governments face? Had we not taken these decisions we could have found ourselves in precisely the same position.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As part of the deal in which local government will have less money and more power, we will reduce the number of unnecessary regimes.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has got back to reality regarding what, if anything, can be done to mitigate the impact of the cuts on some of the poorest communities. I put to him again the issue of national non-domestic rates. He said that there would not be a surplus until 2012-13.
Well, the Office for Budget Responsibility's forecast in the Treasury's June Budget report indicated that there is likely to be a surplus of £3.4 billion. If that is the case, will the right hon. Gentleman agree now to redistribute the whole of any surplus there might be, as the legislation covering this area provides that any such surplus will be redistributed? That is something practical that he could do to mitigate the effects on the poorest communities.
I always enjoyed it when the right hon. Lady occupied my role, so I am sorry to tell her that this is not like a deficit; we have to pay down the debt in relation to non-domestic rates, so the money that she suggests will be available will not be available for what she suggests. In case she thinks I am just making a rhetorical point, I am willing to write to her, copying in the right hon. Member for Don Valley, explaining this issue. If £5.5 billion were suddenly available, I think I might have used it by now.
The points that SIGOMA makes could be made by the county councils network, the district councils network, the SPARSE Rural group and my dear chums at the London councils. They could produce similar figures on how the funding system seems to channel more money to certain areas. Before Labour jumps on these bandwagons, it needs to realise that it cannot play the mets against the shires and then campaign honestly at the May district council elections.
We will listen to all representations. We are moving to meet the points made by the Local Government Association and other interested parties. We intend to deliver a fair and sustainable settlement that protects the most vulnerable communities and spreads the impact in a manageable way.
The hon. Gentleman seems to have left the 1980s for the 1970s and "Jim'll Fix It". There is no intention to fix this or to hit vulnerable communities the hardest. We will be doing our best and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be ready to praise me next week when we produce our proposals. Frankly, he should take with a pinch of salt some of the more alarmist predictions of jobs cuts that have been fed to the media by the unions and others. Such dossiers are based on looking at local media and projecting them out. We see unions being upset by stories that unions themselves have placed.
Reducing the number of posts is not the same as job cuts, as staffing can be reduced through natural wastage and freezing. The unions have intentionally misled on the issuing of section 188 notices, which allow the terms and conditions of workers to be changed to save money. The GMB has claimed that 26,000 staff in Birmingham face "the threat of redundancy". Indeed, that would be a shocking figure-26,000 workers faced with redundancy. In fact, the process seeks to reform car allowances and staff parking, and is nothing more than that. It is designed to reduce the scope for redundancies. Even Leon Trotsky at his worst would not have taken to the streets over car parking. Such reforms reduce the scope for redundancies and do not increase them.
Speaking of redundancies, my right hon. Friend has some discretion over the limited amount of money that he has to allow capitalisation of redundancies in those authorities that have low reserves. I ask him to look carefully at Northumberland, whose reserves were low because of a forced reorganisation under the previous Government, and there is a very heavy claim on the county council at present because of the incredible snowfalls that we have had in Northumberland.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. We warned about the effects of the various reorganisations, and stopped those intended for Norfolk and for Devon. Where money is tight, we cannot afford to waste it on a reorganisation of local government.
I am actively reviewing the amount available for recapitalisation. Clearly, there will be tough choices. The sharing of services and back-office consolidation will reduce the number of staff posts needed over time. The priority of local government is not to be a municipal job creation scheme, but rather to provide quality front-line services, keep local taxes down, and provide a positive environment for private sector job creation and the expansion of local business.
I do not believe the figures. If that is the case, we are beyond economic ruin, because our country has reached a point where we can no longer afford to level off spending. If the hon. Lady would like the United Kingdom to enter the world of Greece and our friends in Ireland- [Interruption.] Let us be fair. What is the biggest problem? Sovereign debt. Which country has the largest sovereign debt? Had my right hon. Friend the Chancellor not taken those brave decisions in the emergency Budget and in the spending review, and if we did not take those brave decisions to their logical conclusion, we would have been in the danger zone. We all know where the Opposition would have been-they would have been running for cover.
That is just a typical Labour intervention. It is not about the economy; it is all about getting as many bleeding stumps as possible. What we do know, through research, is that despite the various daft claims made about the number of people being made redundant in Birmingham, for example, the majority are going by way of natural wastage, turnover, mutuals and co-operatives being set up-something that Trotsky would have approved of-voluntary redundancies and early retirement. When it comes down to it, the likelihood is that the number of compulsory redundancies will be less than 4%. Frankly, these things can be managed with a will, and it is our intention that councils will manage them sensibly.
Owing to Labour's planned cuts and the dire state of the public finances, the vast majority of councils have seen these difficult and challenging times coming, and they have been making sensible, constructive plans to address them. I want to support them with action, not meaningless words. I can make councillors' and councils' jobs a lot easier by scrapping regulations, tearing up unnecessary guidance and cutting through red tape. The Government are restoring real democratic accountability to local government, giving the power, the freedom and the authority to those who actually make the decisions. We have to be realistic. We realise that there is less money, but unlike the former Government, I do not intend to tell councils how they should spend it. The money given in this settlement will not come with strings attached. As we said during the spending review, with very few exceptions we have ended the ring-fencing of grants, so that councils can decide for themselves how their money should be prioritised and spent.
Under the spending review, we will allow councils to borrow against future business rates. We are also introducing powerful new financial incentives for councils, such as the new homes bonus. In addition, there is the £20 million through capitalisation, referred to by my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Beith. Councils can top that up with the sensible use of their £10 billion of reserves-they were prudent and repaired the roof when the sun was shining, unlike Labour, and they can now spend that money when it is rainy. There are a whole range of measures that proactive councils can take-for example, improving transparency, sharing services, cutting out waste, improving procurement practice and bringing senior pay under control.
May I tell the Secretary of State that my council of Lewisham has done all the things that he has just mentioned? Over the past five years, it has saved £40 million through efficiency savings. He made the point about jobs. Let me tell him that the council has just taken a decision to cut £16 million from the budget. That would cost 300 jobs, but only 50% of them could be found through natural wastage. However, the council tells me that front-loading means that it will not be able to plan to get down even to that level, let alone the 4% that the Secretary of State has just spoken about.
The right hon. Lady's council has just £1 million short of £60 million in reserve. The decision that has been taken is its own decision, and I would urge it now to look at other measures. I would urge the council to look towards a joint- [ Interruption. ] It might not be for the right hon. Lady-I know she lives a champagne lifestyle-but £60 million is a lot of money. Let the council look towards sharing a chief executive, or sharing an education authority or planning authority. Let it look at working together right across back-office services.
At the heart of the settlement, we want to ensure the protection of hard-working families and pensioners; support for vulnerable individuals; help for vulnerable communities; and fairness, for both north and south, and rural and urban England. Practical policies to protect the vulnerable include: £1 billion in extra grant for social care and a further £1 billion from the NHS; a new role for councils in public health, backed up with extra funding; £2 billion for decent homes, improving the quality of life for those in poor-quality housing; and £6.5 billion to support people and allow the vulnerable to lead independent lives. Labour talks about fairness, but when it was in government council tax more than doubled-in some years, above inflation-thanks to fiddled funding and unfunded burdens.
The right hon. Gentleman mentions funding for public health, which is estimated to represent at least 4% of the NHS budget. Will that move across to local government?
The right hon. Lady is playing a game whereby if money moves from the health service it represents a cut in the health service, but if it moves to local authorities it fills a hole. Conservative Members have been saying for years that there is a role for councils in public health, and we are backing that. I recall, at the Opposition Dispatch Box, asking the then Government for the kind of financial commitments that we are currently giving to deal with adult social care. Frankly, the right hon. Lady should be thanking us- [ Interruption. ] Well, I'm glad you're supporting it. Just get behind the programme then, dear. That'd be marvellous.
Working families, pensioners and, indeed, the squeezed middle were hit the hardest. The hikes were equivalent to 3.5p on income tax, and the Labour Government were planning further local tax rises, as their local government manifesto for a fourth term revealed: removing the retail prices index cap on business rates, hammering local high streets; a council tax revaluation and rebanding, hitting cash-poor pensioners; and new taxes to empty bins, punishing struggling families. Labour's answer to every policy problem was an extra rise in tax or more red tape. But, in six months, the new Government have scrapped Labour's bin taxes, called off the council tax revaluation, increased small business rate relief and found £650 million a year of funding in each of the next four years to help to freeze council tax next year. Let me make it clear: that is completely new money; it is not top-sliced.
I intend this settlement to be the last ever to rely on such a complex and outdated system, which is not fit for purpose. It has trapped too many councils, making them financially dependent on central Government, and there is no incentive for them to invest in their local economy, given that the proceeds simply vanish to central Government to share out nationally. It makes planning difficult, weakens local accountability and stifles local innovation. It is part of the same trend that has led to some areas of the country becoming almost completely dependent on the public sector.
All that will become clearer when I present the full settlement to the House, but let me reassure Members that I and my ministerial team are doing everything possible to ensure that local government has a fair and sustainable settlement, to the good of the country and to the good of local communities.
May I take this opportunity to thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak in this important Opposition day debate? I am pleased to follow the Secretary of State, who, in his calm Yorkshire way, said not a lot. What he did say, however, will send a chill through communities in my constituency.
The Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government's cuts will clearly have an effect on all constituencies, but I believe they will impact more unfairly on areas with additional social need, such as my constituency in Greater Manchester. I benefit from representing a constituency that covers two very different local authorities, Stockport and Tameside metropolitan boroughs, and, although both authorities plan major reductions in spending in the years ahead, I fear that the cuts will impact particularly on Tameside, which has been ranked as an area of high deprivation and the 56th most deprived local authority area in England.
People in Tameside earn lower incomes than the national average, and in their time of need they might find themselves calling on council services, just when the council is least able to assist them because the massive reduction in its overall budgets will impact on those crucial services. To be fair, it is a similar story with the two Reddish wards in the Stockport part of my constituency. Although those wards are located in a much more prosperous borough overall, they are also areas of very high social need.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very interesting point about how poverty can be localised much more than on the basis of local authority area. Does he accept that that is a shortcoming local government finance in the past? The assumption has been that an area is either poor across the whole of the local authority or not at all?
For the past 13 years of the Labour Government, Stockport received additional money because of those deprived Stockport wards. It is a shame that the Liberal Democrat council chose not to spend the money in Reddish and in those wards.
It is true that we are facing one of the worst rounds of spending contraction ever experienced. That is likely to have a massive impact on every part of our public services, not just local government. However, we should not forget that local government provides, or co-ordinates, the delivery of some of the most valued public services-from children's services to adult social care, from leisure, parks and libraries to schools and from fixing roads and pavements to public transport and refuse collection.
I am concerned about how the cuts are being implemented and their unfairness to more socially deprived areas. My constituents in Tameside and Stockport accept that there needs to be a reduction in public spending and that local government must play its part, but it is certainly difficult to see any fairness-as was promised in the comprehensive spending review-in the fact that some councils in the most deprived areas will have reductions in their budgets next year of, as has been suggested, up to 25%, 30% or more, whereas other councils-many in the south-will feel the impact of those reductions far less.
Research from SIGOMA, a group of 44 metropolitan and unitary authorities outside London-I know the Secretary of State's view on that grouping-demonstrates that the councils that expect to be worst hit by the CSR are in the 20% most deprived areas. Clearly we know that the cuts will hit places such as Denton and Reddish very hard indeed.
Tameside council is planning for a total funding reduction of around £100 million over the next four years-a massive amount for one fairly small metropolitan borough to lose. We also know the cuts are being front-loaded, so Tameside council will need to save more than £37 million next year. It must save more in one year than it has saved over the past seven, despite making extremely tough choices to meet its Gershon savings. There is very little meat left on the bone. These cuts will hurt our services. Ultimately, the proposed cuts will mean a reduction in Tameside council's work force of about 800 over the next four years.
The hon. Gentleman is speaking up for his constituents, and he is to be applauded for that. He says that there is very little meat left on the bone in Tameside. What will he say to my constituents when they realise that under the previous Labour Government Tameside received a real-terms increase over the past five years, whereas Croydon received a real-terms cut of 3%?
I am not sure that those figures are correct. However, if that is what the hon. Gentleman says, people in Croydon should vote Labour. When combined with the new year rise in VAT, it is clear these cuts and the impact they will have on public services means that those people with the least-especially the elderly and most vulnerable-will pay more and lose the most.
I have had sight of recent research showing the overall impact of the Government's spending plans on local authorities, including Tameside. It calculates that from 2014-15, as my constituents make their contribution to the Government's deficit reduction, Tameside's economy will lose £50 million a year. It also shows that residents of working age will, on average, contribute £39.79 per person compared with the Chancellor's constituency of Tatton, where residents will contribute only £22.62 per head, or those living in Kensington and Chelsea, who will contribute just £5.91 per head.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on defending the constituents whom he so ably represents. He can, of course, cherry-pick statistics as he wishes, but I should like to let him know what is happening in part of my constituency. East Hampshire district council-the provenance of these statistics, incidentally, is the council itself, and they are historical-has seen a real-terms 25% reduction in the grant from central Government over the past 10 years. Does he think that that is fair?
Of course, the hon. Gentleman makes the case for his area, but I would say that areas such as Tameside, which I represent, do not have the capacity to raise the money locally, so they suffer disproportionately when central Government grants are cut in the way proposed by this Government.
I will not give way-I want to make some progress.
It is a similar story when we look at the changes to long-term sickness benefit, which is being cut by £2 billion a year. Tameside will lose £11 million a year: £85.14 per head of the working age population, compared with £45.18 for Tatton or £13.18 for Kensington and Chelsea. This is hugely unfair, and it clearly illustrates who is bearing the brunt of the spending reductions.
Let me turn to how the Stockport part of my constituency will be affected. The Liberal Democrats who run Stockport council are being very evasive-to put it politely. We know that they have to make about £20 million of cuts next year, but so far they have announced only £15 million-they will not yet say where the other £5 million will come from. That uncertainty is chronically unfair on their dedicated and hard-working work force. I find it ironic that the Liberal Democrats tabled one council motion after another condemning Labour's grant settlements-real-terms increases, year on year, on a frequent basis. Since their Government announced cuts, there has been not a single peep from any of their councillors. Nobody likes to be unpopular, least of all the Liberal Democrats, who have become past masters at blaming somebody else, but they are not being straight with the people of Stockport about where the axe will fall and what the impact will be on front-line services. Instead, they are using convenient managerial phrases such as "service redesign", "restructure" and "reprioritise" when they really mean cuts.
Cuts on this scale mean big job losses. Only last week, Stockport council announced 250 job losses, which will mean unprecedented reductions in services that will be felt in every corner of our community-although given the previous form of Stockport Liberal Democrats, no doubt many of the cuts will hit the Reddish wards in my constituency hardest.
There is suspicion about where the axe will fall next. It is alleged, for example, that all the youth centres will be closed, including the one in Reddish, which does an invaluable job in keeping young people engaged with their education and away from trouble. This is a wider problem within the coalition Government and their ill thought-out plans regarding local government finance. How can they possibly create the so-called big society when the voluntary sector, which will be fundamental to it, will face such substantial reductions in its core funding as these local government cuts start to bite hard? Of course, as we heard earlier, many workers in the public and voluntary sectors are women who work in the heart of our communities as teaching assistants, care assistants, school crossing patrollers and dinner ladies. It is truly hypocritical of the coalition Government to talk about the big society, and then to attack ordinary people working in their local communities in a range of important jobs.
It is perhaps not sufficiently understood that many jobs in the private sector are dependent on local government and public sector funding. Demand will be taken out of the local economy, so many retail and service companies will suffer. Tameside pioneered a scheme called Tameside Works First that prioritised the granting of smaller contracts to local companies to assist them through the downturn, helping local companies such as Denton-based Anvil Masters, which provided new park railings for Granada park in the town. Tameside should be lauded for pioneering such a scheme. However, the cuts will have a ripple effect in the private sector in my constituency and in every constituency.
Finally, the poorest, those who are most at risk and those who are most in need in our communities will be affected heavily by the cuts to council services. Some of the same people will be affected by the cuts to housing benefit. Recent research has shown that about 3,700 people in Tameside and 3,600 people in Stockport will lose out because of the proposed changes to housing benefit, some by as much as £42 a week. We should not forget that since the economic downturn, some households will have lost a wage and some people will have moved to lower paid jobs. That means that there are now even more low-paid families and that even more help is needed from local council services, at a time when councils are least able to help.
There is an emerging pattern across the country of who will be affected the most by local government cuts and the changes to the way in which central Government funds are handed out to councils: poorer areas in cities and metropolitan boroughs will face the brunt. The Labour Government had a strong record of increasing funding for local authorities in such areas, and of using those authorities to deliver national priorities by harnessing the best locally. Worse still, it is clear to all Labour Members that the Government have taken no account of how areas such as Denton and Reddish will fare with the massive reductions in spending. Sadly, we face a bleak future with trepidation.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye in this important debate.
Having served as a local councillor for a number of years before coming to this place, I praise the Secretary of State for deciding to free local councils from the chains of red tape that stifled local government throughout the years of the Labour Administration. In the current economic climate, there is no doubt that there will be pain and that it will apply to local government as much as to any other area.
Last Friday, my local council in Cornwall adopted an emergency budget and took the early initiative to consider where savings might be made before the settlement announcement. It is predicted that the cost of delaying that decision would have been £55,000 a day. Sadly, opposition parties in Cornwall were promoting further meetings and the delaying of decisions. Ten days of delay would have cost £500,000 and twenty days of delay would have cost £1 million. Opposition parties seem to be engaging in delaying tactics just for the sake of it.
I ask the Secretary of State to note that, on the creation of the new unitary council, the authority inherited a significant number of reserves that were held for specific reasons. Most came with a variety of commitments against them and, as such, remained untouched last year, although there was a minor review through which some reserves were swept up corporately. A new strategy has been introduced, the main theme of which is to reduce radically the number of reserves that are held; to manage all capital reserves centrally as part of the corporate approach to capital financing; to create one budget equalisation reserve per directorate to allow minor budget variations to be funded without recourse to the corporate centre; and to ensure that the authority's general reserve is sufficient.
The council acknowledges the need to consider alternative models of service delivery, including trusts, joint ventures and arm's length management organisations, some of which involve services being delivered in partnership with the private sector.
On the sharing of services and facilities, does my hon. Friend agree that we must work across service areas with neighbouring authorities and external organisations to deliver value for money and to drive up standards?
Absolutely. I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend.
The arm's length companies will remain under the direct control of the council, but will free up trade with partners and trade outside our borders to bring more business into Cornwall. An example of that shared service is that back-office corporate support functions will be brought together in a single organisation alongside the council's customer-facing front desk. That new organisation, although council controlled, will be able to sell its services to other partners within and outside Cornwall, generating more investment in our local economy. That will not only safeguard jobs in Cornwall but give the council a vehicle to create new employment opportunities: integrating those services will alone generate £2.7 million of savings.
Other ways of working include outsourcing, which is where organisational functions that could be delivered by in-house teams are contracted out to external organisations. The council has no intention of widespread outsourcing, but it will explore that option where it makes sense and delivers the best solution for local taxpayers.
Social enterprise is another likely model for service delivery, particularly in relation to the integration of health and social care services. Developing new models of service delivery is a radical shift, and the council has said that it will explore the details further in a series of business cases. It has said that it has a major role to play in decisions on how local health services will operate in future. It is keen to benefit from joint commissioning of care services and take the lead through its statutory role in health and well-being. Adult care services could be integrated into health services and new social enterprises, and public health services will become part of the council. The council will offer to provide a joined-up support service for GP consortiums, and there will be an integrated children's service led by the council.
In Cornwall, the council has been talking about public sector reform for some time. It is resourceful and pragmatic, and it can deliver the big society.
The Secretary of State recently said that councils should use the cuts as an
"opportunity to completely rethink everything they are doing, creating a modern, flexible and innovative council."
I was a councillor for 15 years in North Tyneside, and that is nothing new to me. The big society and localism are just about reinventing the wheel, because many of us who were local councillors in the past know how hard councillors work and how much they have done to use their budgets wisely.
During my 15 years as a councillor I saw many changes. At first, I was a councillor under the former Tory Government, and when Labour took power in 1997, it was good to see changes such as how we were able to bring houses up to the decent homes standard over 10 years, and to see our neglected schools change, becoming new or refurbished buildings and providing fantastic places in which to educate our children. There was Sure Start, and in my borough there were new swimming pools. We were also able to put in place the "Fuel for kids" scheme, giving children a free breakfast at the start of the school day. For many children, that made a difference to their learning ability, and there is empirical evidence to prove that.
We were able to do many of those things when we moved to a mayoral system and had a progressive Labour mayor, who followed two years of a Tory mayor. Under the Tories many services were cut, and in fact the voluntary sector service in which I worked was closed. When we got our progressive Labour mayor, John Harrison, all the things that I have referred to flourished.
Just over a year ago, the previous Tory mayor was re-elected, and, as he has mentioned in the House, she happens to be a favourite of the Secretary of State. That Tory mayor, when leader of the council opposition, wrote to the then Housing Minister and asked him to withdraw £100 million of credits that were to be given to the Labour council to build older people's homes for the future-she simply did not want that done. Since taking office, she has drastically reduced that project, which means we will see not new, fantastic, refurbished properties, but old houses simply remodelled not to the standard people wanted. She has also prevented 800 new council houses from being built with money that would have come from the former Labour Government, because she did not want it to happen in her end of the borough.
It is interesting to see how, until tonight, the mayor has fought against so much that Labour put in place and praised the new Government. The mayor I am talking about is Mayor Arkley, and tonight, in North Tyneside's section of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, she is pleading with her Government to have a change of heart. She has urged Treasury and other Ministers
"to think again about the speed of the cuts".
It is not just in Tyneside and the north-east where Conservatives are vocally opposing the Government's measures; it is also in Teesside, where the Conservative leader of Stockton council, Ken Lupton, has said that the Con-Dem Government's position on the cuts is wrong. Also, Mayor Mallon from Middlesbrough -an independent, and not necessarily a loving friend of the Labour party-has said that the Conservative party and Liberal Democrats have declared war on the north.
My hon. Friend is right. It is good to see those people waking up to the realities of these deep cuts.
On this occasion, I would like to join our Tory mayor in pleading with the Government. She said:
"At a recent meeting with an official from HM Treasury, I have requested officials to reconsider this issue and spread the reductions more evenly over the four-year period of the Spending Review and to allow additional freedoms to local authorities to capitalise redundancy and equal payments to enable more effective planning to take place for workforce changes".
I ask that Ministers listen not just to the Opposition, but to their own party members, who are trying to deliver a service and believe that the cuts are too deep, too soon.
I declare an interest, because I am still a councillor on South Derbyshire district council and am married to the new council leader. I was leader myself for three years, and was previously a councillor there for 15 years-it seems to be a popular choice. Prior to that, for four years, I was a councillor on Wandsworth council. My antecedents in local government are strong and long. I have an abiding love for it.
I am appalled at tonight's debate. It is astonishing that yet again we have hour after hour of prime television in which all the Labour lot do is scaremonger-it is hour in, hour out. There is no substance to what they say, because of the appalling way Labour councils have run areas year after year. They have never considered value for money for their taxpayers.
By the sound of it, the hon. Lady has a great record in local government in South Derbyshire, so she will be aware of the Gershon savings over the past five years, under which 3% to 5% of council tax spending was looked at in terms of savings across the board. In my area, that has led to significant savings over the past five years.
Of course, I know about the Gershon savings. I also remember the squeals about it and the synthetic savings that were made. The opportunity was not taken to look root and branch at what local councils need to do and should do, at the way they should do it and at the value for money they provide for their residents. It is hugely important that people take an innovative look at the way in which local councils work, and that they take this opportunity. The whole country is in a financial crisis, and nobody should be in position where they do not have to take their percentage of it. That would be completely wrong.
The new coalition Government are going to look at the floors and ceilings, the caps, the huge amount of ridiculous comprehensive area assessment-type targets, and the millions of pounds that all our councils have had to spend on this sort of thing. This coalition Government are about freeing people up to organise themselves in such a way that they provide the vital services that their people want at the same time as having the guts to say, "We don't want to do that any more. We'll have a referendum on it. Do you agree with us?" In our council in South Derbyshire, 1% on the rates raises £50,000. Given the floors and ceilings that I have had to put up with for the past 13 years of the Labour Government, we have easily lost £2 million there. The same goes for the fire authority in Derbyshire, and the police authority as well.
May I inform the hon. Lady that those floors were introduced to protect her local authority? Local authorities such as St Helens should have received a far bigger grant allocation every year, but we did not put right what the previous Tory Government had done, which was to take money from the most deprived parts of the community and give it to the most affluent parts.
I should just like to put the record straight, following that previous intervention. According to the House of Commons Library, two of the local authorities that did worst, along with my own council, over the past five years under the previous Labour Government were Newcastle upon Tyne and Liverpool.
What an amazing situation. We are completely blind to the reality of what has been going on. The ratepayers of South Derbyshire also know about how much money comes in. They were used to council tax rises of 9%, 13% and 17%, which was absolutely outrageous for hard-working families. It was completely ridiculous. We were left to fend for ourselves, and it just was not good enough.
The new localism Bill, and the new arrangements for the rate support grant, will have a major effect on what we do. We will be able to do away with the horrendous top-down targets that our accountancy and finance staff used to spend hundreds of hours dealing with. All of that will be swept away, and thank goodness for that. I am really looking forward to the announcements just before Christmas. There is one more Christmas present that the Minister can give me, relating to Gypsies and Travellers, but we can talk about that another time. We have had to put up with scaremongering for the last however many hours, and the debate is to go on until 10 o'clock, apparently, so goodness knows what else the Opposition will come up with.
Those were not my words that I mentioned earlier; they were the words of Ken Lupton, the Conservative leader of Stockton borough council. He has said that the proposals were wrong.
If the hon. Gentleman would like to phone me later, I will sort him out.
It really takes the biscuit that we can sit here, having had 13 years of local government being raped by top-down targets, London telling us how we have to do stuff, ignoring local priorities and spending hour after hour on a meaningless load of nonsense including having different languages printed on council papers all the time-
No, I think that I have given way enough. It is a delight to hear the hon. Gentleman, but perhaps another time.
I am really pleased that the Ministers have given robust answers from the Dispatch Box, and I look forward to hearing some quieter comments later on, along with some apologies from the Labour party for what we have had to put up with for the past 13 years.
It is a pleasure, albeit a sad one, to speak in this debate about the impact that this Government's policies have had on my constituency and my local authority. I speak not only for Blackpool, however, but on behalf of many other seaside and coastal towns that have suffered disproportionately under the policies of the Minister's Department and the Government since they were formed-I will not say since they were elected-in May.
As many Members know, Blackpool and many other seaside towns have always had significant problems that are not just particular to them, but are greatly emphasised. The problems are connected with mobility and transience, and they often have severe pockets of deprivation. It is to the last Government's credit that significant attempts were made to ameliorate the situation both through spending formulae and through the working neighbourhoods fund, area-based grants, the local enterprise growth initiative, the sea change programme and others. They helped to soften some of the particular problems faced by those areas.
Not at this point, but I may do later.
I shall not stray far from the motion before us, but I want to mention, in passing, the significant assistance provided by the Northwest Regional Development Agency, and the same point applies to seaside and coastal towns elsewhere.
I would like to make a little progress before giving way. As I was saying, the regional development agencies provided a significant benefit.
What has happened since June this year? First, we had the area-based grants cuts in the emergency Budget. If we look at the figures on the cuts in seaside and coastal towns generally, and particularly at those in Blackpool, we find that in most cases the cuts were twice the level of those made in other areas. It is not necessary to take just my word for it; let me cite the words of Peter Callow, the leader of Conservative-controlled Blackpool council. On Radio Lancashire, commenting on the cuts, he said that
"it is 33 million for a part year remember which equates to £4 million for the whole year, that is a sizeable sum and what I have got to explain to government and what I am doing is saying look behind the glitz and the glamour of Blackpool there is deprivation, we are one of the most deprived areas in the land and we shouldn't be singled out like this, I understand some of the leafy lanes of Surrey and places have got away with it, well that can't be right".
That is what the leader of our Conservative-controlled council said back in June.
I am interested in the point my hon. Friend is developing. I understand that Newham council is likely to lose approximately £70 million over three years. Newham, as my hon. Friend will know, has the sixth highest level of deprivation in the country. Richmond, on the other hand-I am sure we all who know who represents that constituency-is to lose only about 9% of its net grant, which amounts to only £4.6 million.
I am grateful for that intervention, in which my hon. Friend highlights the disparities that can arise between two boroughs in a relatively small geographical area in London. Those disparities, of course, have been reflected elsewhere. Blackpool had the cuts I mentioned, for example. Then we had the spending review.
I see in his place the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Robert Neill. When he was tackled on these issues during questions immediately following the spending review, he came up with the immortal phrase:
"Those in greatest need ultimately bear the burden of paying off the debt which this country has been left".-[ Hansard, 10 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 450.]
If there were ever a Freudian slip to demonstrate the position of Conservative Members, who want to punish deprived areas for the problems they face, that was it.
The hon. Gentleman could at least quote me properly. He should remember that I said that that would be the case if the deficit were not paid down. We are paying down the deficit precisely to protect the most vulnerable-something that his party singularly failed to do.
If the Minister consults the Hansard report of the day in question, he will see that he said what I have quoted, that Mr Speaker said "Order", and that we moved on to other subjects. There was no reference to what he had said.
The spending review speaks of front-loading, and we heard-unusually, coming from a blunt Yorkshireman-some quite waffly references to it by the Secretary of State. We must wait to find out whether all the waffle produces anything, but I can tell the house that the abolition of the area-based grants, and the effective abolition of the working neighbourhoods fund in the second spending review, have had a devastating effect on towns such as Blackpool, not least because-as was pointed out earlier-it is not just a question of what the working neighbourhoods fund did for the public sector, but of what it was also able to do for the private sector in conjunction with that.
We in Blackpool, like those in several other areas, have experienced a double whammy. We have also been left off the list of areas that will receive funds for decent homes, although our borough and community feature on the index of local deprivation as the 12th most deprived in the country.
Labour Members and, to be fair, one or two Government Members have talked of the knock-on effect on other services. In my area the Connexion service, youth services and other services of that nature have already suffered badly, and are likely to continue to suffer badly if anything like the 16% overall cut that is currently being proposed for Blackpool borough council is imposed.
At this year's Labour party conference, I went to a fringe meeting that had been organised by Action for Children. It was a good, non-party-political meeting, which discussed the involvement of young people in their local communities. It was attended by some very good youth workers from all over the north-west. Virtually all those people, who were doing good work in their communities, had already lost their jobs or were about to do so, either because of the abolition of the future jobs fund or because of cuts resulting from the area-based grant system.
In case Government Members think that this is simply a bit of propaganda from the Opposition, let me remind them what the chief executive of Blackpool council wrote to me in a letter back in July about the reduction in revenue and capital support. He spoke of cuts of £3 million in the area base grant, £1.3 million in education, £731,000 in local enterprise growth initiatives, £116,000 in Supporting People, and £526,000 in the working neighbourhoods fund. The list could go on. In fact, the north-west generally faced the biggest share of the £1.17 billion of local authority cuts that were announced in June. It lost £1 of every £6 that was cut across the United Kingdom.
I was a Burnley councillor for many years. We had the working neighbourhoods fund, but we were well aware that it would end this year. Were Blackpool councillors not aware of that? We made provision for it.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I understand that he wishes to mitigate some of the criticism that his own councillors have made of the various settlements, but I remind him that the cuts in area-based grant had to be effected in year, in this year, quite apart from what would happen after 2011.
The Government keep talking about the three-year period for the working neighbourhoods fund. At that stage we had a three-year settlement, so all grants were based on three years, not just this one.
I thank my hon. Friend, who has been most generous. Does he agree that the withdrawal of the working neighbourhoods fund is a false economy? Getting just one single parent into employment through the use of the fund saves the public purse about £5,300 per year.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In common with many other seaside and coastal towns, Blackpool has a lot of small businesses and micro-businesses, and they are precisely the kind of businesses that benefited from the application of the working neighbourhoods fund and who are now suffering as a result of its potential withdrawal.
I want to talk about the situation in Blackpool as it is now. My local authority has told me that, on the basis of a 16% cut, it is looking for cuts of £32 million in its overall budget. Unsurprisingly, that led the leader of Blackpool council to write to the Secretary of State-he has been having quite a sustained correspondence with the Secretary of State, but without a great deal of success. On
That is also what all my party colleagues are urging. We are not suggesting that the Secretary of State has a magic wand he can wave to solve all the problems-not that I have ever seen him in Christmas panto. Rather, we are talking about sensible settlements.
We are also talking about the cumulative effect of what this Government have done, because it is not just about the cuts in the working neighbourhoods fund or local government cuts. It is also about what is being done in respect of education maintenance allowances. Some 2,500 young people in Blackpool are now going to be deprived. I went to my sixth-form college last week, where I met the brightest group of first-year sixth formers-all of them girls, incidentally. I have been meeting them for some time. They were all full of enthusiasm for where they were going, and they had all come through the Aimhigher programme. They were also all-bar one, I think-in receipt of EMA, and, of course, they were the last cohort to be receiving that. We are therefore talking about this whole conglomeration of subjects.
The fact is that, even if the Secretary of State believes he has made a significant impact on the current situation, that is not what the journalists are saying. On
"has been rebuffed in a last-ditch plea to the Treasury for funding...Sources close to chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander"- who was obviously not singing from the same hymn sheet as the Secretary of State today-
"confirmed that the Secretary of State made an unsuccessful plea for more cash earlier this month to mitigate the impact of front-loaded local government cuts."
The Secretary of State was singing a cheerful song today, but whether he was whistling to keep his spirits up, we will wait to see with the local government settlement.
When we move aside all the statistics, we are talking about the impact of real cuts on real people. I want to conclude by sharing with the House the account of a visit I made to a project in the summer. It is a community garden in a very deprived area in the centre of Blackpool. Everybody had worked hard on it, but the efforts had been co-ordinated by a woman from the council who had worked with the police community support officers and the residents association. The mayor attended, and we all had a wonderful afternoon. At the end the woman from the council came forward and said a few things, and we were then all told to put our hands together and give her a big round of applause because it was her last day. Why was it her last day? It was her last day because she was one of the people losing their job under the area-based grants cut that this Government have brought forward. I do not want-and I am sure many other Members do not want this either-to spend the next 12 months going around my constituency from worthy project to worthy project having similar experiences. Therefore, despite the philosophical and ideological differences between the Government and Opposition Members, I urge the Government to think again. They should look again at the disproportionate effect these policies are having on some of our most deprived communities.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak in a debate on local government. As I said in an intervention on the shadow Secretary of State, local government is very important, as is funding local government properly, and I think it is perfectly proper for the Labour Opposition to choose the funding settlement for local government as the general subject for an Opposition-day debate. The title of the debate is therefore entirely appropriate; we should debate the distribution of local government funding and the effects of changes to it.
The only real matter of dispute that I have with the right hon. Lady and her colleagues is that many of them are making comments today as if the settlement had been announced, when instead we are, I hope, using our last chance to tell Ministers what we would like to happen. A whole succession of colleagues on the Labour Back Benches have reeled off figures as if they were the final settlement, and one has complained that one of his councils has not finally decided what cuts it should make. Andrew Gwynne complained that Stockport council has not finalised that. My hon. Friend Mark Hunter used to be the leader of Stockport council. Those of us who know that council, and many other councils, well understand that it has not yet finalised its budget-and neither has my local authority, which happens to be run by Labour, whereas Stockport is run by Liberal Democrats. They are waiting-
No, the hon. Lady entered the Chamber only a few minutes ago and has already intervened twice, and I want to deal with the contributions that have been made.
Most councils wait until the provisional settlement, which will be announced next week, after which they make representations if they feel it is not fair or appropriate, and then there is a final settlement. Of course there is planning for a budget, but today's debate is an opportunity for us not to be doom-mongers about decisions that have not been taken, but to make sure we put cases and arguments publicly, that some of us have been making to Ministers and colleagues privately, as to what we believe will be the best possible settlement in the difficult financial circumstances of the time.
As the hon. Gentleman is accusing the Opposition of saying things in a particular way, we must be clear that local councils have been pleading with Department for Communities and Local Government Ministers for a steer on this because of the unprecedented level of cuts. The comprehensive spending review clearly shows front loading, yet the Secretary of State today still calls that fiction and will still not answer questions. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that it is right that when councils ask for a steer they should be given a steer, yet we are still not getting a single answer from Ministers?
Of course councils make representations both collectively and singly and, understandably, once councils of all parties, including those run by Liberal Democrats, heard the announcement of the CSR in October, they told the Government that they thought the front loading of the four-year settlement was not as desirable as a more evenly spread reduction. I share that view. I intervened on the Secretary of State asking him if there was an opportunity to have a flatter reduction over the four years. He did not give a final answer because, of course, that is a decision that will be left until the formal announcement, but he indicated-I agree it was not definitive-
Wait a minute; I want to deal with the question from the right hon. Lady's colleague first.
The Secretary of State indicated that he was understanding of that point, and it is clear that the Government have done work to see if they can mitigate the effects of a more severe front loading. I, like others, will wait to see the outcome of that. I hope it will be possible to mitigate the effects. If it is, that will be a major achievement; if it is not, it is to be regretted. However, there are many good things about the settlement so far that was announced in the CSR, as there are also some proper concerns, one of which Barbara Keeley rightly enumerated.
Part of the reason that the Opposition decided to use a whole day of Opposition time to debate this subject is that we think we should lobby and pressure the Government on it. I must ask the hon. Gentleman something. Would it not have been better if, instead of having the formula grant profile announced in the comprehensive spending review show a decrease next year of 10.7%, and then reductions of 6.4, 0.9 and 5.6% for the following three years, the Government could have spread the cuts evenly over that four-year period? They have created completely unnecessary mayhem and fear out there.
I say clearly to the right hon. Lady that, as I have indicated, I have argued publicly and privately that it would be better for the spending reduction to be spread more evenly. I have been into the Department to make that case. A parliamentary committee of Liberal Democrats from both Houses has collectively made that case, and it includes people who have been leaders of local councils. I understand and share the view that it would clearly be easier for local government to manage a gradual reduction than sudden and bigger reductions in the first two years, a small reduction in the third year and then an intermediate reduction. There is no disagreement on this issue between the right hon. Lady and me, and there is not much disagreement between councils of all colours around the country, which are making that point to government. I hope that the Government and Ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government have been able to make some progress on that point, given that they obviously have to start with an announcement made by the Chancellor which reduces their flexibility-we will doubtless hear when the settlements are made.
I do not know where the hon. Gentleman's local authority lies in the indices of multiple deprivation, but mine is the 39th most deprived in the country. I say to him that there is a need for him to advise the Government on how to create fairness between boroughs such as ours and the Prime Minister's local authority, which has been cited and is in the 5% least deprived areas in the whole country.
The right hon. Lady would expect me to be sympathetic to that point and I have acted in the past few weeks on that very issue. I have been in to see Ministers; I went to see the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Andrew Stunell, and civil servants to discuss exactly that issue. I believe that it would be wrong if all the funding currently given to councils, including the working neighbourhoods fund, which was a top-up in order to assist deprived communities, was not taken into account as the starting point for the calculation for the next grant. I have also argued that it would be inappropriate for there to be a greater decrease in percentile terms for authorities such as hers and mine, which have significant deprivation, than for smaller authorities, just because we happen to have had a larger amount of public money before. I have been given reassurance that an upper and lower percentage reduction will be common across all local government-a band above and below which the reduction cannot happen-and that there is a likely inclusion of at least some, although I hope all, of the other funding, not just the core formula grant.
I understand the point that the right hon. Lady makes, and she would expect me to go into bat for deprived communities, because I represent a borough that has a higher deprivation index than the next-door borough of Lewisham-I believe that is the case. Relative deprivation is not a competition we are proud of, but this is something we have to deal with. Of course one of the things that we have to do is try to get a fair settlement that reflects the needs of and deprivation in all the local authorities in that settlement. Again, I can tell her that I have been doing the job that she, my constituents and my local authority, although it is run by Labour, would expect me to do, just as I would have done when my local authority was run by my colleagues.
I will not give way, as the hon. Gentleman has intervened several times in this debate and I want to press on.
It is not just local government that is important; I want to pay tribute to councillors, of all parties, who serve in local government and to many extremely good officers in local government. It contains some brilliant officers, some less brilliant ones and, as in any walk of life, some people who may not be in their right vocation. Southwark council has some excellent officers, and I pay tribute to them and thank them for their courteous and regularly helpful service.
We know the background to today's debate: we have to deal with a huge economic legacy of the combination of international problems, the banking crisis and the previous Government's policies. We know that we have to save public money and we know that local government has to bear its share. I note that the Department for Communities and Local Government has imposed on itself a larger percentage reduction in its funding than it is asking local government to bear.
There will also be good things in the settlement, according to the comprehensive spending review. For example, it is clear that there will be additional money- £1 billion a year-for personal social services, in order to deal with the fact that there are more older people and people are living longer. That is a good thing. There will also be far fewer ring-fenced grants-90 will reduce to 10-and that is a good thing for most local councillors, who want to have that choice. In addition, a set of local community budgets will be trialled around the country. We should be positive about those good things.
The Government have to take two other things into account. The first is that some councils have much more reserve than others. The second is that some councils have the ability to raise much more money through council tax than others, because they serve much richer communities. Those background considerations are absolutely relevant.
On that specific point about revenue-raising ability, does the hon. Gentleman agree that this is why, regardless of philosophical arguments about dedicated streams, the severe attack on area-based grants for councils with significant areas of deprivation has been so devastating?
That is why a debate has taken place in which some of us have been trying to discuss a formula that is fair. Some bits of funding that are nothing to do with the local government funding settlement will still go to "affluent" and to "less affluent" areas. Such funding cannot be affected by it, which means that those areas will continue to get public money because it is protected in other ways.
I hope-I was going to say this at the end of my speech, but I will say it now-that one of the things that this Government can achieve, given that they are already a Government of two parties, is to work with the Labour party to try to get a more settled, agreed formula for distributing money to local government. Of course the cake size will vary, but the way in which it is divided between county and district council, and between unitary authorities, metropolitan boroughs and London boroughs, is always the subject of terrible struggle every year and has never been entirely satisfactory. This is neither coalition policy, nor Liberal Democrat policy, but I see no reason, given that we have set up an Office for Budget Responsibility to give independent advice, why we could not have an office that does that sort of job for local government and seeks to offer independent advice as to what the formulae should be. That would take that issue out of the inevitable political bartering, which does not, in the end, necessarily produce the right answer. This involves a terribly complex set of issues and I hope that we can find a better way of doing it.
I wish to make a final generic point and then say a couple of specific things relating to today's agenda. I know that the Government have met and heard from the Local Government Association and London Councils, which are both cross-party bodies. I shall put on the record the LGA's five considerations, which I share. I have dealt with one, which is the desire for a reduction, if possible, of the impact of front loading. My right hon. Friend Sir Alan Beith has touched on another, which is the desire for an increase in capitalisation limits.
I raised that issue with Ministers the other day. The Government have set aside £200 million to pay for potential redundancy in local government. I understand exactly what the Secretary of State said, which was that we hope that many of the job losses will come through natural wastage and other things, not enforced redundancy. My noble Friend Lord Shipley managed well a reduction in staff when he was a council leader in Newcastle, working with the unions, in a way that mitigated all the worst consequences-that is how it should be done. There are good models for doing that, and they are very much supported by the TUC and its member unions. I have had good and authoritative reports that the real figure is much more like the one that Caroline Flint and I have used and, thus, the total bill may be nearer £2 billion, or thereabouts, than £200 million-that clearly needs to be addressed. It is no good our thinking that local authorities can necessarily find the money that they will need if they are to reduce their staff costs.
It is perhaps worth reiterating that some authorities could meet a larger proportion of the redundancy requirement out of reserves and that others, through no fault of their own, are not in that position-I mention Northumberland as an example.
I remember-my right hon. Friend alluded to this fact-that the situation in Northumberland, which went through an enforced change in its local authority nature, boundaries and so on, was more difficult. Others are in difficult situations, too.
The LGA's third point concerns accounting for what it calls "missing grants". There is uncertainty about more than £1.1 billion of specific grants on which councils rely and where the Government have yet to announce future funding levels. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Robert Neill, can tell us when he winds up whether those announcements can be made at the same time. The sooner they can be made the better.
The fourth point concerns fees and charges that are set centrally, such as licensing fees, which have often been shown to be inadequate in covering the full cost of the related services and I ask the Government to deal with that across Government. There are many sub-issues with fees and charges. I hope, for example, we stop the nonsense of having differential fees for burials depending on which side of a boundary one lives- [ Interruption. ] This is a serious point. People who happen to have moved across a boundary, having lived all their live in one authority, find they have to pay, say, 10 times as much to have their late husband or wife buried. Those things are offensive nonsense and we need to deal with them.
The last point is that we need fair grant distribution. That is where I make the strongest plea, alongside the right hon. Member for Don Valley. We must ensure that all the funds that have come from Government to local government this year are the starting point for the calculation for the next year. I have been reassured that things are moving in that direction and I want them to move completely in that direction over the next few days.
London Councils makes similar points. Southwark, like Lewisham, is a borough that has had the protection of a floor and cap, as many authorities have had to. Southwark, like London Councils, argues that funding floors should be set at the highest possible level to prevent cuts falling disproportionately on the local authorities with the highest need. That is important. Those points have been made, by and large but not exclusively, by authorities that are not Conservative-run, but authorities run by the Tories are in that boat, too, as well as authorities where there is a joint administration.
Let me make a final couple of points. Also included should be any other local authority funding that has been cut, if for understandable reasons. For example, in Southwark there was the Aylesbury private finance initiative for our largest estate, which was due to be rebuilt. Because that work had not started, the Government have said that they cannot advance the money. I understand that argument, but it needs to be taken into account as part of the picture. I make a specific plea on that point.
I am conscious that the Government will go down the road of returning business rate control to local government. That is a good thing. I am very conscious that in the localism Bill, which I think is coming into the public domain this week, the Government will give much more discretion to local government on how it raises and spends its money. That is a very good thing. I have always argued that the Department that looks after local government should stand up to the Treasury so that local councils can have the power of general competence, including total general financial competence. For example, they can then borrow against their asset base-their housing stock in the case of Southwark-without having to go to the Government cap in hand to get permission. The Treasury's hand has been unnecessarily authoritative. I understand why, but in any other parts of the world local council spend does not count in the same way and in the same accountancy column towards public sector borrowing requirement totals.
I have a couple of messages to give local councils through the Government. Again, I shall reflect some things that have already been said. Councils must be careful not to pick on the voluntary sector when times are hard for them. It is easy to do that. It is easy suddenly to decide to take all or the bulk of the money away from organisations that are not in-house. Sometimes, councils must reduce their own management and costs. That might be a more effective way of dealing with reductions than taking money away from the voluntary sector, where local authority funding contributes towards a larger whole. I hope that there will not be any such abuse of the relationship. Voluntary sector organisations are often valuable partners and they need to be given as much support and encouragement as possible.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but does he not think that that is the basis of the debate? If the cuts are early and quick-if they have to be decided in three months-people will go for the easy options rather than the restructuring, because the restructuring will take longer to come into effect. Cutting a voluntary sector budget is almost immediate.
I will not dissent from that. I am trying to act in a spirit of consensus and I hope that we will be careful. To put it bluntly, there are both good and poor voluntary sector organisations and although I am not saying that they should not have their grants checked and revisited regularly, the good ones need protection. There is sometimes scope for rationalisation in the voluntary sector. In Southwark, the three pensioners' organisations are becoming one. That should have happened a long time ago-I argued for it-and it will make them a stronger body. I also make a plea that non-statutory youth services should be particularly protected. Colleagues on both sides of the House have argued for that.
Local government must get the message that it should not be paying anybody more than the Prime Minister. It is very simple. Salaries have been ridiculous and unjustified. It has been everybody, and it is not the fault of a council of any particular colour. They have been following each other into this competitive game. To put it bluntly, nobody in the public sector needs to earn more than about £150,000 a year. I am sorry, but I have a really hard-line view about this. We need to start to scale down the ridiculous salaries. If the public sector behaved properly, perhaps we would have some morality in going to the private sector to say that it should not pay such ridiculous salaries either.
Times might be hard, but I ask local government please not to sell off the family silver, which it might live to regret. I am having a local spat with my local council leader because Southwark council has decided that it wants to sell off the three historic metropolitan borough town halls. That is unnecessary. The buildings could be reconfigured and kept in use and they would be far better places and venues that would be far more valuable than the alternatives that have been mentioned.
I have followed the example of Mr Marsden in being positive about trying to find a way of doing things much better in the future. We need common agreement on how to decide the formula. I hope that we will minimise redundancies in all cases, because nobody wants any more redundancies than there should be. I hope that when we get the settlement-probably next week-there will be the maximum collaboration between the major parties to try to ensure that where there is still unfairness, we seek to persuade the Government to make adjustments between the provisional settlement and the final settlement so that the latter is better. This will not be an easy time for local government-no one is pretending that-but I hope that today's debate will mitigate that and that we can all encourage Ministers in the Department to ensure that they win as far as possible every remaining battle they have to fight with the Treasury.
I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to speak in this important debate as, once again, yet another announcement -this time on local government funding-will see areas such as Liverpool lose out in favour of more affluent areas of the country. I have no doubt that some Tories on the Government Benches would agree with the rich getting richer-after all, it is part of their political philosophy-but they could at least come clean about it and not try to kid us that this makes things fairer.
Not just yet.
To hear the Secretary of State tell one of my hon. Friends not to take us back to the '80s shows the brass neck of the man. That is exactly what Labour Members wish to stop. If he wants to know about that torrid decade of Tory rule, I would be happy to sit down with him for a few days to outline the devastation that the Tories wreaked on our great city and specifically on the people of Liverpool, Walton.
This decision on local government funding by this coalition Government will have a disproportionate effect on the area I represent. When I made my maiden speech, I warned-hon. Members can check Hansard-that I would fight against a return to the devastating Tory policies of the '80s that nearly destroyed places such as Liverpool. That is a fight that I will not shy away from.
The Government are rapidly gaining a reputation for saying one thing and doing another, and I fear that their gung-ho approach to local government funding is yet another shameful example of the widening gulf between the coalition's rhetoric and the harsh contradictory reality on the ground.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case against funding being cut in deprived areas and the money going to affluent areas. If I told him that, according to the Library, Liverpool, like my authority, had one of the lowest increases of the past five years-a 3% cut from the Labour Government-and that the biggest increase went to Rutland, which got a 25% increase, what would he say about the Labour Government's record over the past five years?
I would say that it is not just about one specific funding stream; it is about an overall package. Liverpool benefited greatly under the Labour Government -so much so that the hon. Gentleman's friends on the Liberal Democrat Front Benches used to say that the Lib-Dem controlled Liverpool city council was a flagship council because it had got so much money from the Labour Government. Don't try to give me lessons about what happened in Liverpool, mate!
In June, the Department for Communities and Local Government wrote about the immediate front-loaded and ongoing savings to be made by local authorities that
"the Government is satisfied that it has adopted a fair approach to making the necessary reductions."
In the comprehensive spending review, the coalition promised to
"limit as far as possible the impact of reductions...on the most vulnerable in society, and on those regions...dependent on the public sector".
The Government never tire of reminding us that we are all in this together, in the new age of austerity, and insist that their belt-tightening is fair and progressive. So much for the rhetoric. The reality is that the proposed one-size-fits-all local government finance settlement, with its removal of ring-fenced funding for poorer regions and its top-slicing of the formula grant, is set to hit the poorest councils the hardest-none more so, unfortunately, than Liverpool city council.
Whether the Secretary of State likes SIGOMA or not-he did question its findings-its research shows that of the 20 worst-hit local authorities financially, all but two are in the top 20% of most deprived areas in the country. Conversely, of the 20 councils that do best out of the comprehensive spending review, all but two are in the top 10% of wealthiest local authorities. The SIGOMA report concluded:
"The current finance settlement perpetuates inequality rather than allowing areas to operate on an equal footing."
SIGOMA is not alone in its findings. Following its own analysis, the TUC has affirmed that the Government's budgetary policy
"will risk the recovery, increase inequality and threaten social cohesion".
Some interesting facts came out today from the construction industry. The Construction Products Association said that it was going to slip back into recession and the Engineering Employers Federation said that it would not be able to pick up the slack from public sector cuts as the Government have said it would.
I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. Having been a bricklayer and an apprentice, I know the construction sector all too well. I once described myself as the only bricklayer in Parliament; unfortunately, one of my colleagues, who is not present, also did an apprenticeship but he was not indentured, so I can still legitimately claim to be the only indentured bricklayer in the House of Commons.
In addition to the statistics I have quoted and the bodies I have mentioned, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies has noted that the areas most at risk are those with relatively few private sector jobs, high levels of unemployment, poor transport links and high vulnerability to national public sector job losses.
Mr Marsden made some comments about coastal towns, and my constituency fits that bill. When Labour came to power, Great Yarmouth had a couple of the most deprived wards in the country and they were still in the handful of most deprived wards when it left power. Surely Steve Rotheram must agree that it is time to try something different.
I would love to ask the people of Great Yarmouth whether they would like some money with strings or no money at all. I think they would rather have money with strings than what you are proposing-cuts across the board. [ Interruption. ] That is about local authority spending, not how much money you get. You cannot have it both ways.
I apologise, too, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am quite passionate about this. I do not normally just stand up and say things in the Chamber; I stand up when what you are trying to do affects the area that I represent. Believe me, this is one of the areas where we are going to be most affected.
Expert analysts up and down the country agree that the evidence is overwhelming that the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer-so much for progressive politics. This might be far too grave and pressing an issue to exploit for party political reasons, but I cannot help but notice the findings of the House's own researchers that
"the average proportion of grants cut is lower for Conservative controlled authorities than the average for authorities controlled by other parties."
Tory-led West Oxfordshire district council, which is in the Prime Minister's constituency and is one of the least deprived in the country, can look forward to a budget increase of up to 37% over the four-year spending review period, while Labour-run Liverpool city council is set to lose- [ Interruption. ] I would love you to come to Liverpool and laugh in the faces of those people who are going to be forced-
Order. The Minister knows better: if he wants to make an intervention he can do so. Let me say to Steve Rotheram that although he feels very passionately about this issue, he must direct his comments to me in the Chair, preferably not blaming me for the Government's policies-or the Opposition's for that matter. He should not respond to any points unless they are made by way of an intervention.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The Labour-run Liverpool city council is set to lose up to 38% of its funding. Clearly, some of us are more "in this together" than others. I mention Liverpool, as I always try to, because it is the very reason I am here in the first place. Let me focus briefly on precisely what the new funding regime means for my neck of the woods. I should point out that the very nature, speed and extent of the cuts represent a double whammy for Merseyside, which is home to two of the most deprived councils in the country-Liverpool and Knowsley. Indeed, Liverpool is the most deprived local authority area in the land according to all the key poverty indicators, despite the transformation of our city into a true international destination of choice.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern for his native city, but has he seen the local government finance settlement? No one else in the House has.
As the hon. Gentleman has not seen the figures and therefore cannot know what they are for any authority, does he think it right to speculate and scare people when he has no evidence on which to base his assertions?
Does my hon. Friend think that the confusion about the likely size of the cuts is because the spending review that was publicised is the document that everyone is working from? If there is a problem with it, it is because the Government have done the figures wrong.
I thank my hon. Friend. In the spending review framework, the Government committed themselves to limiting the impact of reductions on areas heavily dependent on the public sector. To meet their stated commitment to fairness, should not the Government apply the same logic to the local government settlement? I will give way if the Minister wants to answer that.
I was speaking about the Tory-led West Oxfordshire district council in the Prime Minister's Witney constituency, one of the least deprived areas, and about Liverpool, the most deprived local authority area, getting a 38% funding cut. I mention Liverpool, as I always do, and Knowsley. As an aside, both the Labour party and the Lib Dems have had their conferences in Liverpool. I ask the Tories to do the same so that they can see our wonderful city for themselves. Maybe then they would be less likely to destroy all the progress that we have made in the past few years.
I have huge admiration for the passion with which the hon. Gentleman defends his constituency. I freely admit that I have little idea how the cuts will impact on Liverpool. However, he probably has as little idea how they will impact on places such as Hampshire, which outwardly may appear to be leafy, rural and wealthy, but Hampshire has suffered a loss of £45 million of formula grant since 2003-04, and expects to lose another £20 million over the next few years. Furthermore-
I shall be interested to see whether the hon. Gentleman will allow me to intervene, as I have allowed him to do.
Liverpool city council has established that the in-year cuts announced by the Government in May will have a more than £20 million impact in its ongoing annual reductions. Almost half of this will come from the 2010-11 area-based grant programme, the very programme designed to support deprived communities according to their needs. Funding for a programme to reduce health inequalities by reducing smoking will be cut by 48%. The local enterprise growth initiative, which Simon Hughes spoke about, focuses on increasing entrepreneurial activity. It will lose 14% of its monies.
The transitional employment programme, which supports the long-term unemployed back into employability and employment, will see a 13% cut in its funding. The working neighbourhood fund, which has been mentioned by other speakers, was introduced under the previous Government to tackle worklessness in deprived areas. It has been done away with altogether, depriving the city of £3.5 million this year alone; and another £3.5 million of cuts have been made in area-based grants which directly affect children and young people.
The Government have been consistently slick in their assurances that the delivery of key services need not be adversely impacted, that the vulnerable will be protected, and that the Government are serious about job creation, tackling the skills deficit and getting people back to work. That is starting to sound like a load of old guff.
The hon. Gentleman's city, Liverpool, is a fantastic city. Whatever our differences, our two parties have run it over the years and they have both contributed to it being the great city that it is. I am not speaking for the Government, but I know that they are keen to try to pull together all the effects of spending changes from all Departments as they affect a city or a region, so that none ends up with an unfair or unnecessarily severe burden. That is a tall order. It has never been done before, but the Government are trying to do it, and I hope that people such as the hon. Gentleman and I will work together with the Government to ensure a fairer spread of funding decisions across the-
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that interventions should be brief. It is not his role to mediate-not in the Chamber, at any rate.
What a shame that the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark is not speaking on behalf of the Government and in a more elevated position. If he were, the concerns that he highlights would be brought to the attention of those making the decisions.
Following extensive research and analysis of the impact on Liverpool of the unfair distribution regime, the TUC summed up its findings as follows:
"Experience on the ground suggests that even at this early stage of spending cuts it is simply not possible to make such steep reductions in spending, without hitting the worst off. The impact of cuts in the area based grant also shows that spending reductions so far have been about far more than reducing waste-front line services have been affected."
I seriously begin to question at best the competence, and at worst the integrity, of the present Administration when programmes, services and initiatives which clearly contribute to the declared aspirations of the Government are held in such contempt.
I have not even touched on huge job losses, with the compounding impact of central Government cuts, or the longer-term prognosis, and there is much more that I would like to say, but I have been told by somebody not too far away that my time is almost up. I am desperately hoping to prevent the disproportionate effect on the area that I represent. I finish with a plea to the Government ahead of their local government finance settlement.
My hon. Friend Mr Watts tabled early-day motion 1088. In it, he succinctly outlines issues of particular concern affecting less affluent areas of the country, makes sensible and reasonable recommendations, and calls on the Government to take serious heed of the incontrovertible facts and to deliver on their promise to ensure fairness. It is future generations that will reap the social consequences of the Government's unfair and pernicious policies, so I urge coalition Ministers to study carefully the points that my hon. Friend and many other right-thinking Members have made, and to think again before careering headlong into a finance settlement that will prove punitive, self-defeating and irrevocably damaging to those who need and deserve that the least.
I pay tribute to Steve Rotheram, who spoke with real passion for the area he represents. None of us would expect anything less of hon. Members than to defend the areas that they represent. However, there is no doubt that some cuts had to be instituted, as those on the Opposition Front Bench admitted. There would have had to be cuts, whoever was in control.
In the comprehensive spending review, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor outlined a programme of cuts and spending changes that would allow us to put the country back on a firm footing, among which were changes to local government funding. I know that my saying this is likely to arouse groans from the Opposition Benches, but there is no doubt that, as the Secretary of State pointed out earlier, if changes are to be made to the amounts paid to local government, the period in which they are granted and the amounts in each period, Opposition Front Benchers will have to identify areas elsewhere in Government they would cut. It is no good saying that there are no consequences; there plainly are.
We on the Government Benches could talk eloquently about closing hospitals and about body armour for soldiers. I shall not use that ploy, but something will have to give somewhere if we change the numbers for local government.
I shall address one or two of the points made in the document from SIGOMA. I entirely understand why an organisation of local authorities should get together to try to defend their position. Clearly, that is the right and proper role of local authorities in the current circumstances, but one of the points made in the document is about the imposition of floors. I think I am right in saying that Mr Raynsford, the former Local Government Minister, was responsible in 2002-03 for the imposition of the floors, which protected some local authorities from huge reductions in local government spending as a result of the formula having changed enormously. The floors have remained until the present day, so any disparity or inequality that might be felt across local government has been entrenched by that rule, which resulted from enormously complicated changes in local government funding rules. It is therefore very difficult at this stage to imagine that in one fell swoop we on the coalition Benches will even out the inequalities created over the past 10 years.
It is reasonable to question the funding formula itself. It has changed a great many times, as hon. Members will know, resulting in enormous confusion across many local authorities and, in my part of the world in particular, a real reduction in funding over a great many years. I have already brought up some of these examples in the House, but East Hampshire district council saw a real-terms funding reduction of 25% from 2001 to 2010, while Havant borough council saw a 13% real-terms reduction. Havant council has almost no assets. It is not a Wandsworth or a Westminster, with a huge parking income or buildings it can rent out to third parties; it is a straightforward council that takes in council tax and receives grant from the Government, yet its funding has been reduced by 13%.
Would the hon. Gentleman like to inform the House what the balance is between the formula grant and the council tax base for those councils? That is one of the big disparities, and it is not helpful to talk just about the formula grant, because many councils in places such as Surrey and Hampshire have a good, substantial council tax base.
I absolutely understand what the hon. Lady is saying. If I remember rightly, the SIGOMA report includes a table-I think on page 4 -of the differential rates of council tax between authorities. I cannot tell her exactly what the numbers are, but the overall band D council tax charged in East Hampshire, taking in the Hampshire county council precept and the local parish precepts, is higher than in the SIGOMA authorities. There is already a disparity in the amount that local citizens pay in my part of the world towards the funding of their councils, which is taken into account in the grant settlement, as I understand it. As I mentioned in my earlier intervention-I apologise again for making it overly long, Madam Deputy Speaker-the amount for Hampshire county council reduced by £45 million between 2003-04 and this year, and it is expected to reduce by a further £20 million over the next several years.
Those are not the only sources of funding for local government-there is the business rate and council tax. The UK Statistics Authority says that 56% of local council revenues comes from the council grant. If we apply the cut that the Government propose to that 56% and look at the totality of what local government takes in, we find that the cuts amount to about 14%, or 3.3% a year. The Government have been brave and transparent in talking about the totality of cuts to the revenue grant allocations, because the cut across local government is rather less.
Furthermore, an article in the Municipal Journal from
One or two points have been made about the Government not doing anything to help local businesses. Indeed, the converse point-that the cuts will have a disproportionate impact on areas with high local government employment-has also been made. The Secretary of State did not mention it, but the Chancellor has provided for national insurance contributions holidays, which are granted to small business formations and are specifically targeted on areas with high levels of employment in local government-or, indeed, in government across the board. The Government have therefore taken into account the fact that although there will be cuts in local government, new business formation will be important. Much as many of my colleagues in the south-east would like the NIC holiday to come to the south-east, we have at least some understanding of why it is not.
I do not for a moment misunderstand the fact that anybody who loses their job faces a difficult time, particularly in the current conditions. Therefore, I take seriously the loss of employment in local government. However, it is also worth pointing out-to use the cliché-that when it comes to innovation, necessity is the mother of invention. De-ring-fencing has allowed local councils a world of flexibility to find new ways of doing things: to work differently with partners, and to take budgets that were predicated on particular activities occurring in a certain way and use them differently.
Various representations have been made to the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government, from people across the country and across many subjects, but I was particularly struck by one contribution-I think it was about Birmingham; it could have been about Manchester. [ Interruption. ] Opposition Members will have to forgive me-we have had many representations. Some 15 or 20 agencies were offering similar services to the local population. If we have such duplication of services in local councils-and I believe that in some of the large metropolitan boroughs we do-there are surely innovations to be made. There is money to be saved, and there are new, different ways of doing things. I commend that to local councils.
For the past two or three years, the council in my constituency has shared a chief executive with Staffordshire Moorlands council, which is not only in a different county but in a different region. The councils now have a shared management team and shared services, which shows the innovative ways in which local authorities can save money and preserve local services for residents.
Indeed, and I will return to a couple of examples of my own in a moment.
There is a real need for local councils to work much more closely with third sector organisations in their areas. Simon Hughes has already made the point that we must not encourage councils to take the easy way out, which is to save money by cutting direct grants to local charities.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about reinventing local government and finding new ways of doing things. I am still a local councillor, and I agree with him, but does he agree that front-loading the cuts when we still do not have the local government settlement, but when we have had the CSR, will make it harder to do those things? Councils will have less time and will have to go for easier, quicker cuts to balance the books.
Indeed. It is difficult to make plans at this late stage, but we have known about the cuts for some considerable time. Most councils have known for at least two or three years that the economic times are difficult. My local councils have been planning for such changes for two or three years. Frankly, it is no great excuse to say at this stage that we do not yet know the level of the settlement. We all know-and we have known for a long time-that it will be difficult.
Did not the previous Government's 2009 pre-Budget report set out clearly that public expenditure in unprotected Departments was going to fall by 25% over the course of this Parliament? Given that local government was not one of those protected areas, any local authority would therefore have been aware that such reductions were coming, whoever was in power.
My hon. Friend clearly demonstrates that there is no real excuse for local authorities pretending that we cannot do anything because we do not know how big the cuts will be. Straightforwardly, we know that there will be cuts, and we know that they will be serious.
There are any number of innovative third-sector partners out there doing a fantastic job. I would like to pick just one example from my local area-although it works out of the constituency of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend Mr Hoban-which is the You Trust. I recently met Nicola Youern, who runs the trust. The You Trust has a fantastic way of dealing with new cases, which Hampshire county council brings to it, of difficult-to-house young people. The trust first asks, "What can we teach you to do for yourself?" and then asks, "What can we teach your relatives and friends to do for you that will stop us having to intervene?" The trust goes through that sequence of trying to help people, before saying finally, "The only way we can deal with this is through a public sector intervention." If there were more of that thinking across the public sector, we would get better results for less money.
I also welcome one or two changes that I think-I hope-will shortly appear in the localism Bill. The reporting changes are clearly very welcome. As the performance management portfolio holder for Winchester city council until recently, I was in charge of producing the statistics that we had to relay to central Government, almost none of which was used to create real change in the council but almost all of which were incredibly burdensome to collect.
Indeed. My favourite was on the time taken to re-let a council house, whereby the better we did in re-letting a difficult-to-let council property the worse the statistic became, because of the longer average period for which we had not re-let the house. Every time we re-let a house that had been on the books for three years because it was in a poor condition, the worse our statistic became.
The work also involved a huge amount of management time. We had specialist employees dealing with just that issue and a specialist computer system just to monitor performance management, so I very much welcome rowing back the amount of information that local councils will have to report to central Government. I also became extraordinarily fed up with the number of strategies that we had to deal with, and I would very much welcome an assurance from the Minister that we will not have to do anything like as many of those, either.
I remember fondly the black and minority ethnic strategy for Winchester city council, an entirely necessary document.
I hear the hon. Gentleman's comments about reporting by local authorities, so does he have any worries about the £500 rule, whereby anything on which a local authority spends more than £500 will have to be documented?
The accounts departments already record most of that information, so I see no great difficulty in councils reporting it more widely. It is already on the books, on computers and there to be reported.
If I may, I will carry on.
Strategies were piling up and gathering dust on shelves, but the black and minority ethnic strategy at Winchester city council was, I agree, entirely necessary in small amounts. We, like anybody else, had to be held to account for what we did in that area, but, despite only 1.5% of our population having that background, we were forced to put £50,000 into employing consultants, who produced an enormous great report telling us that what we did already was okay. That is the sort of imposition by central Government to which I hope the localism and decentralisation Bill will put an end.
The wretched Standards Board for England has also accorded a vast amount of work to local government, especially to its legal employees. The board has been used as nothing more than an excuse for the petty battering of officials and parish councillors throughout the country.
We can do more imaginative work in-house, as was said a moment ago. Winchester city, East Hampshire district and Havant borough councils now have a choice-based letting arrangement. That comment has been noted by Opposition Members, but I am sure that such schemes exist in many parts of the country. The arrangement has saved our councils an enormous amount, and we have achieved a better result for our clients. East Hampshire district and Havant borough councils share a joint management tier, and the same individuals hold all the senior management roles in the two authorities: there is one team for two different councils.
Hampshire county council now sends less waste to landfill than any other council in the country, and-furthermore-it generates power for 50,000 homes by incinerating the remainder. Hampshire built itself a new headquarters entirely without cost to the public purse, managed to halve its carbon footprint and is selling other Winchester office blocks that are redundant to its needs. It recently invested with the NHS in 10 state-of-the-art nursing homes, so it is no longer fined millions of pounds for being held responsible for bed blocking-another innovation whereby the council invested to save money. On top of all that, it has made £48 million in efficiency savings-I emphasise, real efficiency savings that can be counted-over the past two years.
I leave my final words to Simon Eden, chief executive of Winchester city council, who says that
"our approach in all this has been to avoid salami-slicing, and instead...re-design services, taking into account changes...made to performance reporting and inspection, planning and in other areas. We have also used that process to look at the best way of focusing on delivery of key priorities for the district, cutting out that which might be seen as lower priority."
I commend that approach to all local councils and hope very much that the House rejects the motion.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate, and it is good to follow a well reasoned contribution from George Hollingbery, in which he made a number of interesting efficiency suggestions. All local authorities throughout the country need to think about the efficiencies that they can fairly and equitably make, but this debate is not about whether local authorities need to make them. It is about the way in which the funding settlement will be distributed throughout the country, and the unfair way in which it will impact on some of the most needy areas in the country.
It is unfortunate that we remain in the dark at this late stage of the funding cycle. The Minister complains that people are speculating about the final outcome, but this debate is his opportunity to tell us definitively what will happen and to reassure the House that the scenarios that the special interest group of municipal authorities, among others, has modelled will not come to pass. I am afraid, however, that in the absence of any hard answers from the Ministers, SIGOMA's analysis is a good one that will continue to gain a great deal of currency.
Members from all parts of the House will have noticed that, and the Minister has an opportunity now or later in his winding-up speech to share that information.
Simon Hughes, who resumes his seat as I speak, gave an eloquent speech in which he took issue with a number of his Government's key policies, but he fell into the trap that even the Secretary of State has fallen into. The hon. Gentleman said, "Wouldn't it be outrageous if any local council were to cut the budget of the voluntary sector to try and balance the books?" I say to him and the Minister, however, that local authorities are looking at the dire situation they face and the appalling decisions they have to make, and from the feedback, I have they do not welcome Ministers telling them what they ought not to do.
The hon. Gentleman says that local authorities are worried. Perhaps Barrow and Furness is worried, but a cabinet member on the borough council in Tamworth, which is not a rich place or wealthy borough, says:
"We have been planning for a long time to cope with the spending round. The previous government gave with one hand and then took twice as much back with the other. So local government is accustomed to saving money. I am confident the councils services will grow despite reduction in grants, partly thanks to the new homes onus, removal of ring fenced budgets and less red tape. It is a careful balancing act but not one that will lead to massive service cuts. It is business as usual in Tamworth."
If it is business as usual in Tamworth, why not in Barrow and Furness-
Order. Interventions are supposed to be short-I have said that a number of times-and if the hon. Gentleman reads a very long quotation on to the record he is going to tend to get cut off before he makes his final point.
I was getting worried, but thankfully there was a question in the last six words of that diatribe. Of course, as hon. Members would expect, I shall go on to talk about the particular difficulties that Barrow borough council will face in the months and years ahead. No one is suggesting that pain will not be felt right across the country. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that, although every council knew that we were approaching difficult times for continued funding, local authorities have not been given enough time to plan for the front-loaded cut that it seems will be imposed on them. Such an approach will cut into areas that it would not have been necessary to cut if the process had been more spread out.
On front loading, Sefton council is facing £38 million of cuts in year one, which will decrease to £16.7 million in year two and £3.8 million in year three. It has been a hung council for 24 years and local councillors of all parties are used to working closely together and resolving such problems. However, they are now finding it incredibly difficult to do so. I hope that the Secretary of State will take on board the challenges that such councils are facing as a result of front-loading.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. His remarks illustrate that, with the top slicing of the formula grant and if the cuts are front-loaded-the Minister is welcome to make the announcement about that today and end the speculation-it will pretty much guarantee that the most deprived areas of the country, which most rely on extra support, will bear the greatest burden of the cuts.
On the voluntary sector grant, if the hon. Gentleman looks at the record, he will see that I did not say that such a situation would be outrageous. I was simply asking councils to be careful not to turn all the heat on to the voluntary sector, rather than looking first at themselves.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I was actually paraphrasing the Secretary of State, who I believe said that local authorities would rue the day that they cut voluntary sector grants. I am sure that they will be delighted to hear how they should be balancing their books, given that the cuts are being front loaded so that a great proportion will fall in the next year.
According to the SIGOMA model, Barrow borough council, which covers the majority of my constituency, will receive a proportional cut in funding in the next financial year that will be exceeded by the cut in funding to only two other local authorities. Despite being in the top 30 most deprived council areas, according to the 2007 indices of multiple deprivation-and if the modelling is even close to accurate- Barrow borough council can expect to lose around 20% or up to 25% of its central Government funding next year. Relatively wealthier local authorities will have levels of cuts imposed that are far less than those that might be inflicted on Barrow borough council.
Although this is an Opposition day debate and many Labour Members have spoken with great passion about the huge damage that could be wrought on their constituencies, Government Members should be clear that this is not simply a partisan issue. Councillors from all parties are concerned about the potential cuts. I hope that the Minister is aware of a letter from the Conservative leader of Barrow borough council-perhaps he will confirm whether he has received it-who I think has written to him or to the Secretary of State to express his concern at the disproportionate cuts that will hit Barrow severely if what is proposed is followed through next week.
Conservative leaders in Barrow and in Stockton and an independent mayor in Middlesbrough all say that these cuts are disproportionately hurting the north compared with the south. Does my hon. Friend think that the Secretary of State would consider those people to be the cigar-chomping communists that he talked about in a recent article in Total Politics magazine?
I am not sure who the Secretary of State would consider to be a cigar-smoking communist. However, my hon. Friend makes a good point. It is not solely Labour councillors or Labour MPs who are speaking up about this matter and it is not just the north of England saying to the south of England that the present funding arrangements need to continue. We are making the case for the broad approach taken by the previous Labour Government. They recognised that areas where deprivation, poverty, unemployment or economic isolation are entrenched need extra resources to improve their situation and to grow the private sector in a way that all hon. Members want to see.
Geographical isolation has always posed economic challenges for the area of Cumbria that I represent. That is never more so than in periods of recession or limited growth. Savage cuts in funding to the local authority at such a time can only exacerbate those challenges. A vicious cycle will be created because not only will jobs directly provided by the borough council disappear-taking with them the multiplier effect that they have within the local economy-but the prospect for investment that will attract new jobs and businesses to the area will also go. Over the past decade, local authority funding has worked well in partnership with funding from the regional development agency to stimulate growth in the Furness area. The situation has not been perfect and we have wanted some things to be more efficient. However, there has undoubtedly been a balance positive over the past 10 years, and there are grave concerns about that being cut.
The people of Barrow are watching anxiously. The Government have imposed added uncertainty on the region through their delay of the vote on the Trident replacement project, which will sustain many thousands of jobs in Barrow's shipyard for decades to come. Such a severe cut to funding will strike a real blow to economic confidence in the area.
However, this is not simply about Barrow or any one area. The matter is also about more than swingeing cuts to local government funding on its own; it is about whether we make the ideological leap into a funding model and into a public policy world where the funding of local areas is blind to the real needs within those areas. Such a simplistic approach may be superficially attractive to some coalition Members, but they must know that the reality will be neither fair nor progressive. Such cuts will mean that the poorest areas of the country carry the greatest burden of cuts, while wealthier areas escape relatively unscathed.
There is still time for the Government to rethink such an approach. It cuts adrift the most economically vulnerable areas of Britain-Barrow is counted as one such area. These cuts would not only jeopardise economic growth in Barrow, but could lead to a situation where any recovery is geographically lopsided and passes by many of the most deprived areas of the country. If the Government want to prevent a situation in which one sector or one region overheats economically, they must think again on this.
I hope that they will listen to the strong calls that have been made in this House and by councillors of all parties across the country to think again about the settlement that they are about to impose-to think about its level, the way in which it is being front-loaded, and the fact that it seems disproportionately to hit some of the areas which, at this difficult time for the country, need our support the most.
I am grateful to have caught your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, to contribute to this important debate. There have been many interesting contributions, on both sides of the House, in which Members have put the case for their particular councils and areas with some passion.
Before I came to this House, I served for 10 years as a city councillor. In fact, I was exactly one half of our group on the council-I doubled its size when I arrived. However, our lack of electoral success does not mean that we were not involved closely in running the local authority. Our council was originally run by Labour and then eventually became one with no overall control, so we were heavily involved in running it for several years.
We have heard some very thoughtful speeches today, particularly by Simon Hughes, who made some sensible and interesting points. In relation to burials, I can certainly relate to the issue that he raised about people on different sides of the same street, in some cases, paying different amounts. Anything that the Government can do to alleviate that would be greatly appreciated.
However, some of the speeches have been more about creating and enforcing divisions where they may not exist, and that has not been helpful to the debate. Neither has the scaremongering that has occurred in some cases, although that does not apply to John Woodcock, who made a sensible contribution. That approach may get headlines in local papers, but it will not do anything to protect services, or do anything for the people who work in local government, many of whom are dedicated public servants.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the contribution by Simon Hughes; I, too, agreed with much of what he said. However, does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark had started by saying that, during the election, his party agreed with the same deficit reduction policy as mine, his words might have been more plausible?
I am not sure how I am supposed to respond to that intervention, but I suspect that it has served its purpose. However, the hon. Gentleman's Front Benchers have told us absolutely nothing about what they intend to do. They cannot have a serious debate on any subject regarding public spending unless they come forward and say what they would do. All we know is that their plan is to protect local services. Is that still the case? If so, something else would have to be cut: is it to be schools or the health service? They have no credibility. It may get them a few cheap headlines, but it will do nothing to contribute to the debate about how we tackle the very serious deficit which this country faces.
It was unfair for the hon. Gentleman to be asked a question about what I said, so I had better give him the answer, which lies in something that he said earlier. He will know from his city council experience that when one is not running the show oneself, one has to work with others-by definition, one cannot get all one's own way. That is fairly obvious.
Absolutely. That is what we should be doing on an issue as important as this. We should all be working together on the whole way that local government is structured to try to change it for the better.
I will give way in a moment to my train colleague; we sometimes catch the same train.
Lots of references have been made to going back to the 1980s, or to the 1970s and "Life on Mars", but some of the contributions have been like listening to "The Twilight Zone". In my 10 years serving as a councillor under the previous Labour Government, I seem to recall the picture not being quite as rosy as that painted by Labour Members. We have heard many comments about Conservative and Liberal councillors criticising this Government's settlement, although we do not know what it is yet. In my 10 years on the council, Labour, Liberal and Conservative councillors tended to criticise the settlement coming forward from any Government. That is the way of local government, largely because the formulae are so complex that there is always something that one is not happy with in any settlement.
When I was a local councillor, our authority went through a number of assessments, first, through the corporate governance inspection regime, and later through the comprehensive performance assessment regime. Labour Members cannot possibly be defending the millions of pounds that went into those schemes. I will explain what those schemes did to a city council such as Hull, which at the beginning of the Labour Administration had some of the most deprived communities in the country, and still had them 13 years later. If hon. Members want to carry out a value-for-money analysis of that, I will leave it to them to do so. The decisions that we were forced to take as a result of going through the CGI process cost our city council millions of pounds over those 10 years.
The council, which was Labour-run, was judged to be a failing council. There was some fair criticism, no doubt, but I do not know whether we needed the expensive regime process that came in to tell us that the authority was not necessarily being run as it should be. One of the most appalling recommendations that followed the CGI process was that we should appoint five corporate directors, but they were not to be employed on the same salary as our previous service area directors-no, we were to employ five corporate directors on salaries of £105,000.
Like my hon. Friend, I served for 10 years as a councillor. I fully echo his point, given the number of times that we were encouraged, following inspections, to spend huge sums of money on members of staff just to prove that we were heading in the right direction.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. This is not something that my council experienced on its own-it happened across the country, as we know.
As I said, we were expected to pay our corporate directors a salary of £105,000, which most people in the city of Hull, and indeed across east Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire, can only dream of. Then, in time, we had to appoint a new chief executive. Needless to say, they were not appointed at the same salary as the previous chief executive-there was a massive salary increase that had a knock-on effect on other local authorities in our area, which judged themselves against how much the neighbouring authority was paying. If we cannot get people to work in local government on salaries lower than that of the Prime Minister, we are doing something badly wrong.
I also well remember the settlements that we used to get from the Labour Government-it was a case of giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Nowhere was that more clear than in the best value process, which required us to measure 100 to 200 different things and report back to central Government. One of our best value performance indicators was to measure how many of our park benches had arms. I am sorry, but when I go drinking in the Dog and Duck, or in my real pub, the Percy Arms- [ Interruption . ] It is conveniently named. People do not come up to me and say, "Andrew, what we want you to do as a local authority is to measure how many park benches have arms." They want their council to be providing services-over the past couple of weeks, gritting, snow ploughing, and so on. They do not want it to be spending hundreds of thousands of pounds every year reporting back on such silly measures.
No, that is not what I said. I am saying that local authorities should be subjected to an awful lot less inspection, and that we certainly should not be running around paying people fat salaries to go measuring how many park benches have arms. If Labour Members are seriously suggesting that they want to maintain that system, I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman so that he can explain to my constituents why my local council should continue to do that.
We all understand that there has to be some measurement of public services, whether they are in schools, the health service or local authorities, but we have to consider the proportion of time, money and resources spent on that. Under the previous Government, it got out completely out of hand-some of it was well meant, but it had unintended consequences. It was alleged at that time that money was thrown at some councils, but it was not always thrown to provide better services; often it was spent on employing more people to sit behind desks and measure things that the public would, frankly, not consider to be a priority. That is what happened in my authority in relation to councillor training. We were suddenly told, following our CGI and CPA inspections, that we had to spend more taxpayers' money on training councillors to do the job that political parties should ensure that they can do before they stand for office. That is why I refused to undertake councillor training-perhaps that says a lot about me.
One of the most ridiculous things that was produced by our council-no doubt by somebody on a good salary-was a guide to professionally appropriate language for councillors. At great expense to the taxpayer, we were issued with a guide to tell us that we must not call women flower, duck or love. If that is considered a good use of taxpayers' money, I am afraid that I am in a different camp.
My other recollection from the past 10 years serving as a local councillor is that, although everything was fantastic and rosy, as we have heard from Labour Members, there were considerable hikes in council tax. The last time the Labour party ran Hull city council, it raised council tax by 10%. If that is evidence of good central Government funding to some of the poorest authorities, I do not know what planet I have been living on.
There is a sensible debate to be had about local government funding, but today's attempts to create division are unhelpful. The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness made the point that I was going to make.
I thank my fellow travelling companion, on certain days, for giving way. Labour Members are not coming up with scare stories. My information comes from the independent mayor of Middlesbrough and the leader of the Tory council in Stockton. We have also heard the example of the leader of the Tory council in Barrow. Those people have legitimate fears about the Government proposals. Yet again, we hear Back Benchers saying that they are aware of the situation, while the Minister says that he does not know what figures or information we are talking about. That only perpetuates the fears. Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that?
One of the burdens of local leadership is to take the information that is provided and decide whether to perpetuate a possible myth that would cause hundreds or thousands of people to fear for their jobs or to disseminate the information differently.
I will not give way any more because I have detained the House already and do not wish to whine on for too long.
Division has been created today by the image that many Tory shire authorities around the country are about to get a windfall and are doing very nicely, whereas everybody else faces cuts. No doubt there will be the slaying of the firstborn and all the other extreme language that we have come to expect from Labour Members. Such arguments are not helpful. I represent Goole and East Riding, which have some of the most deprived communities in England. East Riding suffers from being part of a larger authority that has very wealthy areas, with the consequence that its funding settlement has been among the worst in the country for the past decade. The council has tried incredibly hard over the years.
No, I will not, because the hon. Gentleman has had a lot to say today.
As the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness said, large rural authorities, as well as having considerable pockets of deprivation, face other challenges that are not taken into account. One of my two authorities is the largest unitary authority in the country. It is time that we looked at the structure of the grants system and made it take account of issues of rurality. For example, we know that rural poverty is hard to identify.
If Nic Dakin speaks, I am sure that he will talk more about our Labour local authority, which seems to take a different line on the spending cuts. I will allow others to conclude whether that is for political reasons, given that there are elections next year. However, my Conservative-run authority of East Riding has accepted that it will be tough. It has made decisions to prepare for that over the past two years, because it has known that it is coming. It knew what the Labour party was saying about 25% cuts-some of the biggest cuts in history-coming its way, so it started to make decisions accordingly. Even after the comprehensive spending review, one of my local councils said clearly:
"The programme involved a carefully planned reduction in expenditure in response to anticipated funding cuts."
The council had been planning for the cuts already. Any half-decent leader of a local authority should have had that in mind, not least because they should have seen the previous Government's plans. It is nonsense suddenly to pretend at this late juncture that it is all wicked and terrible, that nobody could have seen this coming, and that it would not have happened in the strange world that the Labour party currently seems to inhabit.
I have highlighted some of the waste and inefficiency that I saw as a local councillor. There are some very good people working in local authorities and providing services. The challenge for local authorities is to navel gaze, to look closely at what they are doing at the moment and to decide whether they can do that better. I give way one last time.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the decision to publish expenditure over £500 will allow a greater number of eyes to look over the information and identify much needed efficiency savings?
Of course I agree. That can be done relatively simply through programmes such as Oracle, which my former council spent millions of pounds investing in-perhaps investing should be in inverted commas.
I am very grateful. I am tempted to agree with some of the points that the hon. Gentleman makes, but will he be kind enough to admit that when he was a councillor in my authority, I never heard him complaining about the grants that he received from my party in government?