I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate, but is it not ironic that the very Members who called for this debate are those who voted against a real-terms increase for local councils in the local government funding settlement?
Let us look at some of the multitude of reasons why councils have tough funding decisions to make. East Sussex County Council, which covers my constituency, is a rural authority, and rural authorities have been significantly underfunded for decades compared with urban areas, something which was never addressed by the previous Labour Government. Rural authorities such as East Sussex receive 45% less funding per head of population. They get 41% less police grant and 32.4% less fire authority grant than urban areas. That is something that was never tackled under Labour but which this Government are looking at.
On need, East Sussex has the highest number of 85-year-olds in the country, and that puts pressure on our adult social care. The House should not be misled by southern areas being comparatively rich. I have some of the most deprived coastal regions in the country, with people earning 85% less than those in urban areas. There is real deprivation and real need in those areas, and the Government have come up with a solution. There will be an increase in the rural services delivery grant in 2018-19, meaning an overall increase of £81 million. That is the highest ever increase, delivered by a Conservative Government. The fair funding review is long overdue, and Labour Members should ask themselves why they did not do it when they were in government.
It is not just about the money that is being given; it is about the use of the funds that are available. When I talk to my constituents, they say that they want their local councils to deliver social services, to collect the bins, to build more housing, to fix the potholes and to get the schools into good and outstanding ratings, but let us look at what some Labour councils are delivering.
Bradford City Council recently spent £1.2 million on a swimming pool strategy that was ditched at the last minute, and it spent £15,000 on a new statue for the town centre. When Northumberland County Council was under Labour administration, it gave £1 million via its property development arm to Ashington football club, which was unearthed only when the Tories took over control last year.
We need to hold councils to account for the money that they spend, but it is not just money spent on pet projects that is often wasted. Figures revealed by the TaxPayers Alliance show that 539 senior council executives across the country earn more than the Prime Minister, and 2,314 senior council executives are on more than £100,000 a year— an 11% increase. Of the 10 councils that pay their executives the most, 70% are Labour controlled. Those councils are paying between £350,000 and £650,000 a year per post, which tells us where the money is being spent.
I welcome the increase in local government funding, but let us look at the record of Opposition Members. They voted against 60,000 young first-time buyers being exempted from stamp duty. Last week, they voted against 50,000 young children getting access to free school meals and, once again, we have seen them vote against councils getting more funding. Their actions speak louder than their words.