I welcome the funding settlement approved by this House last month, which will see my own local authority of South Gloucestershire given an additional £3.2 million in funding. This will have a number of positive consequences, based on the budget agreed a week after this funding was announced.
The school improvement fund will double, meaning that more help will be available to ensure our children get the most out of their education. I am most proud of the fact that the extra £3.2 million will allow the council to act to help care leavers, meaning that they have increased opportunity to meet their own potential. As well as receiving council tax relief, care leavers will benefit from a programme to encourage apprenticeships. I have spoken many times before about the power of apprenticeships to encourage social mobility. I am very proud to see the money being put to such good use, so our youngsters can fulfil their true potential.
The Conservative leaders of South Gloucestershire Council have ensured that the budget is balanced for this year. It is regrettable, however, that that balance was achieved with a 5.99% increase in council tax. The introduction of council tax referendums from 2012 was the expression of a key Conservative principle that taxation should be by consent, with a mandate and as low as possible. It is, however, no surprise that when the threshold for a referendum is a 6% increase, we see a number of councils raising tax by 5.99%. A cynical observer may suggest that they do not want the public scrutiny that would come with a debate and a referendum. The lesson of Northamptonshire County Council is that financial obligations cannot be dodged and that the political leadership of our councils cannot be abandoned.