Like many colleagues, I will concentrate my speech on the effects of the cuts on my local council in Leeds. I must declare an interest: I am still a city councillor until
I pay tribute to the imagination and innovation of our Labour administration and to our great set of council officers who have brought forward many new and radical ways of working despite the difficult circumstances. None the less, the depth of the cuts means that many services are at breaking point. The people of Leeds have borne the burden of maintaining services, which should be paid for from the local government grant. Leeds is a proud and compassionate city with a robust economy. I am incredibly proud of the council’s approach, which, in the words of our city leader, Judith Blake, is to
“put the needs of our most vulnerable residents first, to improve our communities and bring people together in a peaceful and cohesive society and to boost the life chances of our young people by giving them the best opportunities we possibly can.”
By 2020, Leeds City Council will have seen its grant cut, year on year, by £267 million, and the budgetary pressures are not just restricted to revenue budgets either. The city faces a gap in Government funding for capital school projects of approximately £71.7 million. To make matters worse, the Government leave it to the market of free schools and academies to choose where to build new schools. The city has responsibility for placing children in schools, but does not know where those schools will be placed.
I wish to move on to the legion achievements of Leeds City Council since its return to Labour control in 2010. The adoption of a civic enterprise approach paid dividends in the early years of the austerity Budgets, and brought with it the insourcing of housing and housing maintenance, school meals, fleet services, cleaning, catering and plant nurseries. The council also created Aspire, a staff-owned, not-for-profit social enterprise, which provides care and support services to people with learning disabilities; it is the largest co-operative in Leeds.
The council, under the most difficult of circumstances, has delivered new social housing, with a £108 million council house growth programme, which aims to deliver 1,000 new homes by 2020. Personally, I am delighted that the right-to-buy programme and the use of £3 million of prudential borrowing has meant that our great homeless charity, St George’s Crypt, is developing 45 affordable supported living units for people who are homeless or in housing need.
The Labour administration has had to make some hard political choices, but Leeds is the only local authority in England to keep all its children’s centres open. These are invaluable facilities, which helped my own children in their early years. The council has also removed charges for burials and cremations for children under 16. It is compassionate indeed. Leeds has by far the lowest funding for special educational needs of all core cities, with £378 per head against a core city average of £472. I call on the Minister to revisit that gross injustice.
I wish to concentrate my final remarks on the city’s work on climate change. As the deputy executive member for climate change and sustainability, I proudly played a part in the city’s work until my election to this place. Before the historic Conference of Parties 21, Leeds was the first authority to commit to 100% clean energy by 2050. The city has begun many projects to achieve that ambitious environmental goal. In my first few months in office, we installed more than 1,000 solar roofs on council homes and buildings, but we could not continue the programme owing to the Government’s cut in the feed-in tariff for solar. The council has had an extensive programme of replacing diesel with electric vehicles and now has a fleet of more than 70 electric vehicles.
The city is installing a district heat and power network after securing nearly £6 million in European funding. The network will heat 22,000 homes, including high-rise blocks, which are in fuel poverty. The city’s plans on clean air are ambitious, unlike those of the Government who have been dragged kicking and screaming through the courts four times by ClientEarth. Leeds has grasped the nettle and is the first city to go to consultation on a zone to cover all roads in the outer ring road, which is a very large clean air zone, and its proposals are already affecting behaviour, with First Bus investing in cleaner Euro 6 diesel vehicles.
The council needs to achieve much more on air quality, and cannot do so without Government support. I am still waiting for a real commitment from the Government to support us in Leeds. Leeds has done everything asked of it—