I share the vote of thanks to the range of people who have assisted the Bill. A great deal of work went on in the background to ensure the support of Members and the passage of the Bill. I would like to thank the Public Bill Office for the support it gave to the Opposition during the Committee stage, which was a great help.
The Opposition welcomes this infrastructure, which aims to improve our connectivity. We know that improved connectivity is important for economic growth, more jobs and improved links between business hubs and individuals alike. One slight regret, which is a major regret for the people affected, is that nothing in the Bill addresses the divide between urban areas and our rural communities. With 95% of people connected, it is a bitter pill for the 5% who live in areas that are not connected. People in those areas do not want warm words about the amounts of money being given away, but a plan in place to say when high-speed will reach them. Self-employment is on the rise, so access to decent IT in rural communities is essential. It is not in the Bill, but I urge the Government to give more detail on what they are going to do to encourage that roll-out, either in terms of allocation or through the soft relationship they are developing with providers.
The Labour party is committed to focusing on improvements to connectivity and infrastructure in rural communities, many of which feel they have been taken for granted by the Government. They have suffered chronic underinvestment for far too long. We know there are different demands, different drivers and different pressures on our communities, but the decisions we make today should not just about catching up with infrastructure developed five or 10 years ago; it ought to be about preparing the country for the next 10, 20 or 30 years ahead and for the next century. Many communities do not feel that they are a part of such consideration.
The Prime Minister previously called for co-operation across political parties. Over the summer, I reflected on 18 months of being an MP, after previously being a councillor and council leader for 13 years. To make a council and a place work, people need a common vision of what an area can be and they need to know what part they can play in taking it forward. I do not see that taking place nationally. It seems as though party politics is far more important than the people we all, collectively, represent. Getting one up on the Opposition or the Member sat across the Benches seems to be worth more than delivering investment on the ground for the very diverse communities we represent.
I should say that that is not my personal style at all. I am always more than happy to work across political parties if it means, ultimately, that we have better government for all the communities we represent. That is an offer. I do not intend to the Government’s job for them—I am not a taxi for hire in that sense—but I am keen to ensure that the voice of industry, local government and our many diverse communities really feature in policy as it comes through.
There is one area that we need to address. This is not party political, although I do have a view about what the Local Government Finance Bill included and did not include in terms of some of the safety nets and safeguards required. Our local councils cannot continue with their current funding settlement. We know that demand for adult social care is outstripping the money that they have, we know that they are stripping away frontline services just to keep their heads above water, and we know that that is just not sustainable. People are being expected to pay more and more council tax for what they perceive to be fewer and fewer of the services on which they rely, and which they consider to be vital and the foundation of their communities. Surely, if we believe in a decent country in which people can get on and public service is the foundation stone, we must not stand by and watch those people fall over.
This is, in effect, a plea. We have seen the presentation of one element of the Local Government Finance Bill; let us now see the presentation of a scheduled series of Bills that will really address chronic underfunding and the short-term nature of local government finance.