Local Government Finance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:31 pm on 22nd February 2017.

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Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Conservative, Broxtowe 4:31 pm, 22nd February 2017

May I begin by paying a handsome tribute to all councillors, wherever they are and whatever political party they belong to? Mr Thomas will be pleased to hear that I am being non-partisan. Good councillors are genuinely worth their weight in gold, whatever their political allegiance—and a half-decent Member of Parliament will work hand in hand with their councillors. I have always tried to do that, whether at parish, district or borough level—and, at the higher tier, at county level, because Broxtowe does not benefit from having a unitary authority, although many other Members’ areas do. We should say a big thank you for the work that so many of our good councillors do. They have, we could argue, a critical role to play in delivering not only democracy but the key and most important of our public services. I have only stood once for a council—I was unsuccessful—but I have never doubted that local authorities do invaluable work. We often forget the value of that work.

I apologise to any Labour members of Nottinghamshire County Council; I do not suggest that they have resisted moves to go unitary because they fear they might lose their allowances, but the reality is—I am being very blunt about this—that many areas, including no doubt some Conservative and Lib Dem areas, have a genuine need for a unitary authority. I am now very firmly of the view that we should go unitary, with very few exceptions. I quickly add that, because I once had the great pleasure of going to Rugby, and I think Rugby Borough Council could de facto be a unitary, because it does a cracking job, so I am not saying every council should be a unitary. It is overwhelmingly the case, however, and I urge the Secretary of State and his ministerial team to look at the desire for more unitary authorities, and to say to many of our councillor colleagues—in the Conservative and other parties—that, “The days have gone when you could sit on a borough or district council, taking not a great deal of money by way of your allowance, and, I accept, sometimes doing a good job for your communities.” We now need to move to a unitary model to reduce costs and deliver services in a more effective and efficient way.