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Local Government Finance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:19 pm on 7th February 2018.

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Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 7:19 pm, 7th February 2018

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He rightly points out that he raised this issue in Prime Minister’s Question Time earlier and has made representations to me about it. I am pleased to confirm that my officials and I are looking into the matter. He makes the point well. The existing system does leave some scope for ambiguity, and we will look into that.

The vital funding that comes from business rates retention—over £1 billion—is a direct result of local authorities driving economic growth in their areas, and it is on top of the core settlement funding that we have announced today. Over the long term, local government will be transformed, becoming increasingly self-sufficient with local resources funding local services. But to achieve that, we all know that the funding formula needs to become fairer, more transparent and more responsive to changing demands. Getting it right will of course be a challenge, but the prize if we can do that is a system that will be truly fit for the modern world and allow councils to face the future with confidence.

The business rates retention proposals that we mentioned earlier are a key step in this journey, and we hope to see local authorities retaining 75% of business rates from 2020-21. There is a great deal of enthusiasm across the country for this new model, and I can assure the House that I and my Department are committed to working with the sector to make this a success.

I turn briefly to some of the specific points that have been made. Mr Betts and my hon. Friend Simon Hoare were right to pay tribute to local councillors who have, we acknowledge, made difficult decisions and have done an extraordinary job over the past few years. My hon. Friends the Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), for North Dorset, for Waveney (Peter Aldous), for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) and for Ludlow (Mr Dunne) talked about rural areas and the need for fair funding. I can assure them that we are committed to that. The fair funding review will specifically take a fresh look at how council tax should be taken into account when redistributing income, and relative costs of delivering services will also be considered.

My hon. Friends the Members for Corby (Tom Pursglove) and for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) rightly talked about the role of governance and leadership in local councils. They were followed by my hon. Friend Anne Marie Morris, who rightly said that it is not just about how much, but how it is spent. Unaccompanied asylum seekers and the costs that councils have to bear were raised by my hon. Friend Charlie Elphicke. I am pleased to announce that the Government have allocated funding from a £29 million pot for exactly that. My hon. Friend the Member for Corby will be pleased to know that Northamptonshire will receive £231,000 from that grant, and the hon. Member for Dover will know that Kent will receive more than £1 million.

Opposition Members talked a lot about whether the funding was fair. They pointed to Knowsley, so they will be pleased to learn that it receives core spending power per dwelling 26% higher than the average. Indeed, across the country, the 10 most deprived local authorities receive core spending power per dwelling 23% higher than the least deprived. We heard a lot from the Opposition about money. Indeed, the hon. Member for Dover put it well: there is no question to which the answer is not more money. We all know where that money has to come from—our hard-working taxpayers. Under the last Labour Government council tax doubled, and that is what we would have to look forward to again.

This is a settlement that honours our commitment to local government—delivering certainty, recognising the challenges and making additional resources available, all while keeping excessive council tax rises in check. It gives councils the resources they need to provide the world-class services that their communities expect and deserve. I commend it to the House.

Question put.

The House proceeded to a Division.