Local Government Funding

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 4:42 pm on 28th March 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Conservative, North East Hampshire 4:42 pm, 28th March 2018

Like many other Members, I have had real experience in local government. While I listened carefully to what was said by Matt Rodda, I am sorry that he was, from my perspective, the voice of doom and gloom. In my time in local government I saw many positives, and I think it important to take account of that in the context of funding.

Basingstoke and Deane, one of the local authorities that I represent, froze council tax year after year while I was cabinet member for finance and property and, latterly, deputy leader. We managed to do that by identifying efficiencies that we could make without hitting the services that we were providing. We delivered £9.7 million of year-on-year savings over seven years, amounting to 20% of the underlying gross budget. At the same time, 96% of residents said that they were happy with where they lived. Reducing cost does not have to equal reducing services, but Labour Members just do not get that.

Protecting taxpayers’ money is critical. Putting people first means ensuring that their hard-earned money is spent well by local councils. It does depend on the scale of the council, but we achieved real innovation, and I think that councils should do much more of that in the years ahead. We invested in economic growth, delivering a Waitrose and John Lewis and a Costa Coffee on council land and putting money into shopping centres in our area. Even now, there is a plan to create 4,000 new jobs, adding £233 million of gross value to the economy per annum. That is good news. I am afraid that Labour Members want to talk down local government and its achievements. [Interruption.] Any Member who wishes to intervene is more than welcome to do so.

Hart District Council, my other council, is much smaller. Decisions taken by the Conservatives when they were in control have meant that council tax has been kept low and services have been made more efficient. Outsourcing through a five councils initiative, with councils across the country, has meant that even though the revenue support grant has been declining—and I support the idea that councils should become more responsible for their income and expenditure—the council remains viable and prosperous and continues to deliver the services that people want. However, I raise one point with the Minister: the negative RSG being proposed is a different matter. I hope he will be able to reassure me on that point later.

The five councils initiative demonstrates that scale is important. The county council has been so successful because of its scale. It has analysed ways in which greater efficiencies can be made: savings to the tune of £791 million, according to a Deloitte report—almost a billion pounds could be saved through closer working across the county and the cities. I urge Ministers to work with Members here to identify sensible ways forward to deliver that closer working; perhaps combined authorities could be the first step towards that.

There are opportunities for further efficiency from devolution as services such as health and social care could be integrated more closely, delivering a better outcome for people while saving money for the taxpayer. That focus is what underpins my interest in this area. Better services and lower taxes—that is what the Conservatives are doing. We will put the people first. That is what we have done, and it is what we are going to get on and do.