Local Government Funding

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 4:50 pm on 28th March 2018.

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Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact 4:50 pm, 28th March 2018

My old sales manager used to say that when you point the finger at someone, you get three fingers pointing back at you. We have just heard that all this is apparently the Government’s fault, but we know what the Government are actually doing through the Localism Act 2011. It was this Government who introduced the Act, under which they trust councillors and make them accountable for the services they provide at the lowest possible layer, closest to the residents that they serve.

This settlement is clearly a crucial issue for local authorities. As has been said, councils of all colours have been talking about the squeeze on local finances, and we have to look at that. It is important that the settlement should strike the right balance between relieving pressure on local services, including social care, and the ongoing need to service our debt, while recognising that families face their own pressures. The Government recognise the fact that we need to move to a formula that allows for fairer funding and tackles the issue of negative revenue support grants.

I said in an intervention that local choice is absolutely massive. If we are going to trust councillors to deliver local services, we have to let them be responsive to their electorate and also accountable to them. Hazelbourne Road is in south London. Anyone who lives on the Wandsworth side of the road will spend 664 quid less on their council tax than someone who lives just opposite on the Lambeth side. There is a stark difference in the way in which different councils are responding to this backdrop. Let us look at the council taxes that were announced yesterday. Conservative-controlled councils in London charge an average of £148 less than Labour-controlled councils on a band D home. Labour councils have hiked up their bills the most. In 2018-19, Labour councils in London imposed on average an inflation-busting 4.3% on bills, compared with 2.7% for Conservative councils. Residents can see that stark difference, and they understand that it is their council that is taking that decision.

Let us take Kingston Council as an example. Unless something changes drastically over the next few weeks, that council will not get any Government funding from this coming year. Despite that, however, it has been able to freeze its council tax. It has also been able to offer 30 minutes’ free parking, and it has opened two new schools with another one coming along. It has also bought 12 police officers, to make its borough even safer, in response to its residents. Barnet Council has frozen its council tax for seven years, but it still has weekly bin collections and it has invested £7 million in technology to keep its libraries open.

Hillingdon has frozen its council tax for 10 years, but despite that, the shadow Chancellor can enjoy the fact that his libraries have been refurbished, unlike next door in Labour-run Harrow, where Hatch End library is under threat of closure. Hillingdon Council has invested £10 million in its roads and footpaths, as well as exceeding its new housing target. Then I look at my own area of Sutton, where the bin collection has developed its own national hashtag—#suttonbinshame—and the council has sold off a heritage building for £600,000, even though the charity that bought it has managed to take out a £2.5 million mortgage on it. These are local choices, and residents do not need to settle for second best.