Local Government Funding

Part of Opposition Day — [8th allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 5:55 pm on 6th December 2010.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats 5:55 pm, 6th December 2010

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.