Local Government Finance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:03 pm on 5th February 2019.

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Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 6:03 pm, 5th February 2019

I have the utmost respect for Mr Betts and it was good to hear his comments. I did not agree with everything he said, but there is no doubt that he has a significant level of knowledge on this subject.

I welcome the real-terms increase in funding for local government in this settlement. I want to talk a little about the settlement in that context and then talk about the segue we have between this year’s local government finance settlement and a number of different events that are going to take place that will frame the funding for local government as we go to the following year.

There is no doubt that for a number of years it has been a challenging time for local government. Local government has done its share. It has worked extremely hard to do its part to help to sort out the absolute mess left behind by the Labour party in 2010. Many councils have worked extremely hard and coped extremely well in very difficult circumstances. Some have made far better decisions than others. I praise my local authority, Warwickshire County Council, for the sound financial management that it has shown while, at the same time, significantly increasing the funding going into adult and children’s social care. Clearly, it has had to make tough decisions, but it has set priorities and made sure that it is still providing many of its core functions.

That is in stark contrast to one of my district councils—Labour-run Nuneaton and Bedworth District Council—which, quite frankly, has done an absolutely appalling job of dealing with the challenges. It has tried to raise revenue by hiking car parking charges and has lost £500,000 in income. It has overspent on a council depot by £2 million and has purchased a climbing wall, which has so far cost the taxpayer nearly £200,000 and has hardly been used. The council has then proceeded to blame the Government for the financial position that it is in.

I welcome the £17.5 million extra that Warwickshire County Council will get for children’s and adult social care and I welcome the significant investment in roads. In Warwickshire, we are starting not just to fill potholes, but to patch roads properly and replace road surfaces, which is important if we are going to get long-term value for money. I am also pleased that the Secretary of State made his case and got the challenge of negative revenue support grant under control. That makes a difference of £300,000 for my Labour district council and it makes North Warwickshire Borough Council, two wards of which are in my constituency, better off to the tune of £100,000.

One area that I am extremely concerned about in my constituency is rough sleeping. Over and above the settlement, I know that a number of pots of funding are being allocated to dealing with the challenge of rough sleepers. I appeal to the Government Front Benchers, as we go through the various stages of funding on that: in Nuneaton, we desperately need to make sure that we have funding, so that we can get people off the streets and get the support around them to keep them off the streets and help them to sustain accommodation.

Various events are coming up, including the fair funding review, the business rates retention pilots and the spending review. Clearly, we do not know the quantum of funding. There is a lot of speculation over that, but we do not know that as yet. However, there is the distribution of funding to consider. Personally, I think that we need to pay deference to deprivation, but based on looking at how we can improve the potential of areas and let them fulfil their true potential, rather than getting into a race about how deprived every area is, and running and talking those areas down. We also need to look at the difference between county funding and funding for metropolitan areas. That needs to be far fairer. We need to make sure that the business rates review seeks to support councils that do the right thing and drives growth and jobs in their areas.

I mention to the Secretary of State that it would be good to see the new settlement taking place over as long a period as possible. The four-year settlement this time has been very helpful. There are also challenges for the upper-tier authorities that have had various social care funding streams over the last few years. It will be interesting to see how that comes into the final decisions that are made through this process.

I also want to mention the new homes bonus. My area has not used that for frontline services, but many have, and we need to be careful and acknowledge that in the new settlement. Finally, there is car parking. In times when many towns need to reduce car parking charges, we need to be very careful not to put too much importance on car parking in doing the settlement.

I welcome today’s settlement. I will support it, and it is a good segue into all the hard work that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), will do.