Local Government Finance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:55 pm on 5th February 2019.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee 5:55 pm, 5th February 2019

That is quite a good record. If the hon. Gentleman looks back, he will find that one of the problems was the lack of regulation of financial institutions, but the Conservatives criticised Labour for regulating too strongly throughout that period.

I will try to be charitable to the Government by saying that I can welcome some elements of the spending review, including an extra £650 million for social care. However, that has to be set against the LGA’s analysis of a £1 billion deficit in both children’s and adult social care, which will rise to £3 billion for each in 2025. I can welcome the fact that the spending power of councils as a whole will not fall in real terms—there is a 2.8% increase in cash terms—but that is spread differently across various authorities, and is cushioned by increases in council tax. Those increases bring in more money in richer areas, of course, and those are the areas that have received the smallest cuts to their grants since 2010. Those two things do not sit well together.

Sheffield has seen a 50% cut in grants since 2010 and major cuts to services. Social care services for both children and adults overspent by £15 million last year and will do so again this year. This is not a local authority out of financial control. It has not yet used its reserves, but next year, for the first time, it is planning to do so. Of course, that can be done for only a limited number of years. Many authorities across the political spectrum are in the same position.

Care is very important, but there are other services to consider. Sheffield and most authorities have done the right thing by concentrating on care, because they have statutory responsibilities to the elderly, children in care and people with disabilities, but National Audit Office figures for cuts to other services since 2010 show that private sector housing has been cut by 60%, that traffic management and road safety has been cut by 60%, that recreation and sport has been cut by 50%, that libraries have been cut by 30%, and that planning and development has been cut by 50%. Those cuts are hitting communities. In the end, it is not councils that are hit by such cuts; it is communities. It has happened in my city, where libraries are having to be staffed by volunteers, grass-cutting is done less often and private sector housing officers are not sufficient to bring selective licensing on the scale that we would like. There are cuts to funding for road safety, with bus routes scrapped, and children’s centres and youth centres closed. That is happening in the constituencies and local authorities of Conservative Members, too. What worries me is that as most people do not have family members in care, they see the other council services: parks, buses, libraries, road maintenance and refuse collection. Those are the services that matter to them, but they are the services that are subject to the biggest cuts of all.