Let me make it very clear. In case the hon. Gentleman has not realised, this is not a Labour Budget. A Labour Budget would look very different. We will not vote today to restrict extra money for the lowest paid in our country, and when we have a Labour Government offering hope for the future, a Labour Budget will rectify the giveaways to the top.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury believes that the Government have not cut local government budgets, but the fact is that, since 2010, spending power—the Government’s preferred measure—has fallen by 28.6%, which includes the 49.1% cut to central Government grants for local authorities. Yes, local authorities have been given new powers to raise funds, but the reality is that a 1% council tax increase in her area raises significantly more than a 1% council tax increase in mine. She can shake her head, but if she does not understand that areas whose properties are predominantly in bands A and B do not raise the same amount as areas with properties in higher council tax bands, perhaps she should not be Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
I will make the position clear, because Treasury Ministers appear to have found these calculations very difficult. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury told “Newsnight”:
“We are not making cuts to local authorities. What we have done is give them more revenue raising powers so that decisions can be taken locally.”
I am happy to give Government Front Benchers the calculations provided by the Tory-led Local Government Association and by the National Audit Office. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has gone further and provided an analysis of how the cuts have fallen across the country:
“the most deprived authorities, including Barking &
Dagenham, Birmingham and Salford, made an average cut to spending per person of 32%, compared to 17% in the least deprived areas, including Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Dorset.”
These hardest-hit councils have been dealt a second blow by the Government’s reliance on council tax to fund the struggling social care sector, as they are unable to raise anything like enough through the social care precept compared with councils in wealthier areas.
The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government can shake his head, but this year Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council, one of the two authorities that make up my constituency, has a £16 million social care funding gap. One per cent. on council tax in Tameside brings in £750,000. The Tamesides of this world are never able to fill that social care gap from council tax, and that is what is so unfair.
Instead of providing the much needed reform of social care, this Budget has once again shown a Government committed to sticking-plaster solutions. There is no Green paper and no long-term plan. Just as the £1.3 billion cut hits next year, the Government will need to find £1.5 billion just to keep social care running. Behind these figures are real people who need help, and the Government sit idly by.
Sadly, the Government’s small contribution to alleviating this crisis will for many people be far too little, and, for many councils, far too late. One of the most sacred values and duties of any Government is to ensure that the most vulnerable in society are protected. With overspending on children’s services hitting a new high of £800 million a year, the Chancellor’s pledge of £84 million for just 20 councils—I am interested to know which 20 councils they are—comes nowhere close to addressing the national crisis. Both crime and the fear of crime are rising in our neighbourhoods, yet this week’s Budget offers not a single extra penny for neighbourhood policing. The National Audit Office and the Select Committee on Home Affairs are warning that, without funding, our police service is teetering on the edge of collapse. The number of police officers has already fallen by 21,000 since 2010, and the independent police watchdog is warning that
“the lives of vulnerable people could be at risk.”
But instead of fixing the problem, the Treasury sees fit to play fast and loose with public safety with a £165 million raid on pensions. We are now in an unprecedented situation where police chiefs are threatening legal action against this Government.
The chief constable of Greater Manchester police has warned that upcoming budget cuts could take officer numbers back to levels last seen in 1975, wiping out the 50 additional officers funded by this year’s council tax precept. Another 600 officers need to be cut, on top of the 2,000 we have already lost, because of this Government’s mess on pensions.