Local Government Finance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:22 pm on 7th February 2018.

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Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Conservative, Corby 6:22 pm, 7th February 2018

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am keen to return to that point later in my remarks.

It is not good enough for cabinet members simply to shrug off all responsibility and try to apportion blame elsewhere, because there has to be accountability. The question we have to ask is this: why is it that many local authorities in similar circumstances—with similar settlements and populations—have managed to handle the challenges of recent years much more effectively than Northamptonshire County Council has? It would also be wrong to suggest that Members of Parliament and members of the Government have not tried to do our bit to help with those challenges, but being able to help relies upon the frank exchange of information and an honest dialogue. What has happened suggests that that has not been the case. At every opportunity, we have tried to help.

I welcome the commitment to a fairer funding review. It is a little rich for Opposition Members to talk down a fairer funding review, because we did not have one in 13 years of Labour government. Actually, Northamptonshire has been chronically underfunded, in local government terms, under Governments from both sides; we do not do well out of funding formulas relative to more metropolitan areas. I hope that the local government finance review will help address some of those anomalies.

I have talked regularly in the House about the cost pressures created for Northamptonshire County Council by unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement in December of an additional £18 million to tackle those cost pressures, and I hope that the county council will bid for some of the money; it will be entitled to some of it, because the cost pressures are acute.

It is also vital to note that the core spending power in the period up to 2020 is up by 7.6%, which is worth £31.1 million more. Members of Parliament have raised concerns, but the Government have also taken steps to help tackle directly some of the challenges. It is clear to me, as night follows day, that a fairer funding review in itself will not solve Northamptonshire County Council’s problems. I take absolutely no pleasure in saying any of this, but I will not moderate my remarks for party political convenience, because my primary concern in all this is continuity of service for the most vulnerable of my constituents.

Where do we go from here? We obviously need to wait for the inspector’s findings. I would like to see an interim report as soon as possible, because we need that certainty. I suspect that commissioners may well need to be appointed, because the failures are systemic and need to be dealt with robustly. We need to have a serious conversation in the county about the future structure of local government. To me, it seems clear that a two-tier model just is not financially viable in the current climate.