Local Government Finance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:01 pm on 22nd February 2017.

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Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Devolution) 6:01 pm, 22nd February 2017

If I may be so bold, may I say that it is a pleasure to speak with you in the Chair, Mr Speaker? Long may that continue. We have had an interesting debate, with many representations from Members on both sides of the House about the chronic state of local authority funding. There has also been some reflection on the fact that little has moved on since the provisional statement to provide councils with the funding they need to provide the services that our communities rely on. What is the point of having a consultation if responses from hundreds of local authorities, the LGA and third sector organisations, and representations made here by Members of Parliament, lead to no new money? We talked about the crisis in adult social care, but there is no new money. We talked about the loss of libraries, youth centres and day care centres, but there is no new money. We talked about the pressures on local authorities, which are wondering whether they can make ends meet, but there is no new money.

The Local Government Finance Bill Committee sat for 10 sittings, and I am sure that the Minister will share my delight in all that we gleaned from them. It was an education, but unfortunately it was the worst of educations because we learned very little. We talked a lot, we were slightly disruptive at some points, and there was a bit of chatter in the background from the naughty classmates towards the back, but little new information was shared to aid our education and understanding along this financial journey. Where is the money?

Before coming in today, I thought that I should be a bit more charitable. The Minister had quite a hard time in Committee. I found the Committee enjoyable, but I suspect he did not. I also had a perhaps uncharitable view of the Secretary of State. I felt that he did not really enjoy his position in the DCLG team. He came out in a different way today when he talked about business, because that is where his heart really is. He clearly cares about business and enterprise, and when discussing that element of the pressures of business rates he was convincing in his desire to do something about it. He was less convincing when we talked about adult social care, when we talked about the 1.2 million people who need support in their homes and just do not get it, and when we talked about people who are stuck in hospital and desperate to get back home but cannot because the support is not there when they need it. That is the crux of the issue. We have a Secretary of State who does not want to do the job that he has been given: it is temporary; he is just passing through; he is waiting for the better opportunities that lie ahead. Unfortunately, there is a cost to the temporary nature of his attitude, and the Minister has to deal with that.

When we hear further details of the financial settlement, we hope that there will be new money. I suspect the new money will not be focused on adult social care in the way we hope. It is far more likely that it will be used to offset the business rates revaluation that has sent a shockwave through the business system. Let us be honest: the business rates scheme, as it stands, is not fit for purpose. There is absolutely a need for a property-based tax, and we know how to collect it—if people do not pay, we knock on their door—but it has its limitations. We can go only so far with it, just as we can go only so far with council tax. A 25% increase on council tax to spend even more at local level to fund social care is just not sustainable.

If we do not grapple with the situation and find a different way to fund social care and health, we will continue to have this debate every month and every year. Every time we have the debate, more and more people will be let down. I believe in a decent society, and our older people deserve better than contributing all their life, working hard and making that change for the generations to come only to be let down when they need it most.

I have a number of hopes. First, I hope that the fair funding settlement and equation will be quick and delayed no more than they have to be. I hope that businesses are supported through the transitional phase in the way they should be. I hope that older people are supported, as a matter of urgency, to live longer, healthier lives in their own homes. That will require additional funding—not just the sweet talk that Surrey County Council’s leader had from the Secretary of State, but meaningful additional money where it is needed.

More than that, because I believe that every person should fulfil their potential, I hope—for the DCLG team, for this country and not least for himself—that the Secretary of State finds a job he wants quite soon.