Local Government Finance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:26 pm on 5th February 2019.

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Photo of Ruth George Ruth George Labour, High Peak 7:26 pm, 5th February 2019

In Derbyshire, we have seen a 60% reduction in our revenue support grant since 2010. Instead, we end up with short-term pots of funding. We have a Conservative county council that says it cannot spend its pothole money because it was given too late in the year. It has a better care fund that is £8 million underspent, in spite of huge cuts being made to our health services, including our voluntary services, in Derbyshire. Yesterday, the county council refused to refer that to the Secretary of State or to cover those cuts, which will make such a difference to our communities.

In the less than two years that I have been in this place, I have seen cuts to our libraries in Derbyshire—almost half the libraries have been transferred to community management, with no grant, and the rest of them have reduced hours—and our Sunday bus services have been cut, so now at the weekend, the Peak District is overrun with cars. In our schools, one of the biggest issues that I see in my casework is children with special needs being deprived of the support they need. Parents have been battling against schools and schools have been battling against the local authority year on year. We have seen educational psychologists cut yet again, even though they are crucial to diagnosing autism and special needs. When parents have been able to get the support they need to take the county council to a tribunal, the county council has lost 39 out of 40 recent cases. However, parents are still struggling on to support their children, who are not getting the help that they need.

It is only going to get worse for families. In spite of rising numbers of children on child protection orders—up by over a quarter in two years—the number of children in care in Derbyshire has risen by 9% in nine months. However, the county council has just put forward its response to the consultation: it is going to cut two thirds of its early help staff—293 of the 400-odd staff will be cut. Its responsibility for supporting families will be transferred to schools, which are already struggling. Those with no at-risk children—largely in better-off areas —will be fine, but those in areas where children desperately need support will not be.

Our children’s centres have been cut and most of them closed while youth services are being abolished. In adult social care, contracts for care at home are constantly being whittled away and private providers are at their wit’s end. Areas of my constituency simply will not bid for care packages because they cannot balance the books. As a result, more elderly people are stuck in hospital desperate to come home. Careworkers are being transferred from two to three shifts, but they cannot continue on that basis.

Care homes are having their funding frozen and community alarm services are being cut for four fifths of those who use them. Learning disability services, respite breaks, and now a consultation on day centres—the cuts are endless, and they hit the most vulnerable, who are the people the Government claim to protect. In just 18 months, 2,700 people have been referred to court for collection of council tax, and 7% of households have been lumbered with court costs and bailiff fees. The Government are hitting the poorest, and we are all paying more.