As I understand the overall spending figures in the Budget, apart from for the NHS, there is no real-terms increase in spending. If we have austerity this year and no increase in spending next year, how can austerity be ending next year? That is a fairly obvious question; perhaps someone on the Government Front Bench can answer it.
Local government has had more spending cuts than any other area of the public sector since 2010. We have a situation where the Local Government Association says there is a £2.5 billion funding gap for social care, and the Government are proposing in this Budget to put £650 million into it, leaving a £2 billion gap. In other words, constituents up and down the country will find more cuts to their social care services next year. That is inevitable.
There are not only problems with social care. Because councils are having to find more and more from their budgets to fund care for the elderly, people with disabilities and looked-after children, they are having to spend less and less on other important services—for example, parks and open spaces, which are really important, or doing food inspections of restaurants and takeaways, which some local authorities have now given up completely. The money for the high street is welcome, but where are the local authority officers who will do the local plans and the regeneration schemes that will put the money to good effect? The challenges of rogue landlords and increasing homelessness require local authority officers. Cuts are being made there, so there will be less money for those services also.
In my city of Sheffield, those national figures translate through. We will probably get an extra £4.6 million for social care on a one-off basis—it will not continue—but the current spending gap in the city’s budget for next year is £35 million. By 2020, the council will continue to have to use reserves on an unsustainable basis. Sheffield is not in as bad a position overall as many Conservative county councils, which are already saying that if something urgently is not done, Northamptonshire will be the first council to go over the cliff edge, and others at some stage will follow. That lesson really ought to be learned by Ministers.
It is not just local authorities that are left with problems in this Budget. Where is the money for schools? There is not a single mention of the revenue budget for schools. I had an email from Simon Smith, the chair of governors at Woodhouse West, which is a primary school in a relatively deprived part of my constituency. He said:
“Year on year reductions in funding, coupled with rising staff costs, are meaning that the school is moving…
to submitting a deficit budget this financial year;
followed by increasing six figure deficits in future years.”
He draws attention to the fact that the challenges are not just inside schools. More and more parents in that sort of community are coming to the school with problems and difficulties that used to be addressed and helped by other agencies, but those agencies have now also had their funding cut, so parents are relying on the school even more to help them in that situation.
Where is the money for the police? There is not a single penny for our neighbourhood policing. We have excellent neighbourhood policing in my constituency. The two inspectors who have dealt with it over the years—Dave Struggles and his predecessor, Jason Booth—have been brilliant, but they will say that with only three quarters of the officers they had in 2010, they cannot keep people as safe as they used to. That is the simple reality that we have to face up to and that the police are having to face up to.
I welcome the lifting of the housing revenue account cap. We recently had a conversation in the Communities and Local Government Committee with the Minister for Housing, Kit Malthouse. The challenge for local authorities will be not merely to build the 100,000 homes that I hope we will see eventually, but to keep up the standard of homes that the last Labour Government brought in with the decent homes standard and to improve on that standard. Again, the revenue costs of that are nowhere addressed in this Budget.
The Prime Minister promised that austerity was over. The Chancellor said that austerity was coming to an end. The reality for my constituents is that not only has austerity not ended, but the end of austerity is not even in sight.