Local Government Funding Settlement

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:59 am on 13th December 2018.

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Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Co-National Campaign Coordinator, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 11:59 am, 13th December 2018

First, let me thank the Secretary of State for giving me advance sight of his statement. But the real thanks have to go to our councillors, of all political persuasions and none, and to the frontline heroes who, despite almost a decade of austerity, have worked hard to keep our local public services going at the same time as demand has increased and funding has fallen through the floor. The under-resourcing of local government—the sector has lost 60p in every £1 of central Government funding, according to the Tory-led Local Government Association —and the reverse redistribution policies of his Ministry have exacerbated these problems, and he cannot hide from that fact.

Let us bust the myth—this might come as revelation to the Secretary of State and his Ministers—by pointing out that not all areas are the same. Some areas have greater deprivation and greater poverty, and greater demand for people-based services as a consequence, yet these same areas have fronted the heaviest cuts, and that is continuing—it is not ending. But the Government’s approach, as we have heard here again today, is to shift the burden on to council tax. He knows, and it is an inconvenient truth, that areas such as the one I represent and the one my hon. Friend Jim McMahon represents cannot bring in anything like the resource from council tax that his own council can bring in, and that widens the inequality across England.

So can the Secretary of State confirm how much of the 2.8% that he has announced, to fanfare, is actually being raised through council tax rather than from central Government funding? Can he confirm that he is recommending an inflation-busting council tax rise this year to local government to plug his Department’s gaps? How will he therefore address the inequality issue whereby revenue support grant is distributed on a needs-based formula, but council tax revenue is collected and spent locally, meaning that the richest parts of this country will be able to raise sufficiently more than the parts of the country with real deprivation and real demand on public services? Can he confirm that his plans mean a £1.3 billion cut to RSG next year, offsetting the £1.3 billion of spending in his announcement? That really is the reverse redistribution that I talked about.

Does the Secretary of State agree with his official who told the Public Accounts Committee that the sector is sustainable only if it delivers only statutory services? The Secretary of State will know that councils deliver much more than the bare legal minimum—700 or more non-statutory services to be precise. We are talking about Sure Start centres, libraries, parks, museums and investment in youth—all are not included in his assessment of sustainability. So which of those should councils stop providing altogether, if they are to take the advice of his officials? The truth about this statement is that it was the actually the worst secret Santa ever, because much of what he has announced today was already announced by the Chancellor in his Budget—there is nothing new here.

On adult social care, we were told by the Tory-led Local Government Association that it needs £1.3 billion next year and £2 billion for children’s services, yet the Secretary of State has re-announced £650 million for both—not only that, but it could be shared with the NHS. How is that going to be split between services for adults, children’s services and the NHS? Can he clarify that? The Secretary of State says he is working with the Health and Social Care Secretary to soon publish the Green Paper on social care. Given the pressures that councils are facing, and the real heartbreak and misery experienced by service users, can he tell us how soon is “soon”? Or is this like the Brexit meaningful vote, whereby no date is ever given? The fact is that social care is in crisis. The promised Green Paper has now been delayed four times and it is more than a year late.

On public health, we have seen this week that health inequalities are widening, with life expectancy going backwards in the poorest parts of the country. After £700 million of cuts to public health budgets, and more cuts to come next year, all falling disproportionately on the poorest areas, why is the Secretary of State not doing more to protect those budgets from being used for what are clearly non-public health projects?

Two years ago on the steps of Downing Street, and again last night, the Prime Minister promised to build a country that works for everyone. At her conference, she promised to end austerity. But is it not the case that Brokenshire today delivered another broken promise? Food bank use has increased to the highest rate on record. Child homelessness has increased to the highest level in recent years. Yesterday, we were told that for the first time since records began, life expectancy has come to a standstill, and in some areas it is falling.

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights warned that local authorities have been gutted by a series of Government policies. Although the Secretary of State may wrap up his statement in Christmas paper, when we unwrap the parcel we will still see poorer areas in this country getting poorer. Frankly, that should shame us all.