It is an honour to follow Vicky Ford, particularly after listening to her account of what can be done to help to tackle dementia.
Like a number of other Members, I have had the honour of being a councillor: for 15 years, I served the people of Battle Hill ward, where I live, in North Tyneside. To this day, I am proud of everything that Labour councillors have achieved since North Tyneside came into being in 1974. Labour has been in power there for the majority of that time. I remain an ardent supporter of the council under our elected mayor, Norma Redfearn, and pay great attention to the council’s finances, particularly as my husband Ray has served as the cabinet member for finance over the past six years.
Like councils up and down the country, North Tyneside has struggled over the past nine years, losing £120 million because of Government cuts. This year, the council has taken a £3.5 million cut, and more than £27 million in cuts are due over the next four years. Because of the cuts, North Tyneside’s cabinet has been put in a difficult position with regard to preparing a balanced budget while bringing together the impact of reduced funding over successive years, as well as the additional unfunded burdens and demand-led pressures the council has faced.
A major problem has been the Government’s assumption that councils will make the Government’s suggested increase in council tax, because that suggested increase is taken into account when the council’s baseline funding needs are assessed. Although the Government see bringing forward these council tax-raising powers in the settlement as a way of recognising the calls for urgent help for councils to tackle some of the immediate social care pressures they face, in practice it simply shifts the burden of tackling a national crisis on to councils, and ultimately on to their residents. Sadly, North Tyneside, with this burden placed on it, has, with great reluctance, increased council tax in this year’s budget by 2.99%. That means £30 extra a year for band A and more than £45 extra for band D, which is quite a sum for people who are already struggling to make ends meet.
Despite the rise in council tax, North Tyneside Labour Council continues to face the challenge of maximising the use of available resources to ensure that the borough continues to grow through investment and that essential services such as social care continue to be delivered. Achieving that balance becomes more and more difficult every year, and the council can see no easing of the relentless pressure to secure efficiencies in the current financial environment.
However, despite those challenges, North Tyneside continues to focus on achieving the overall policy objective shaped in “Our North Tyneside Plan”, which was put together by a mayor who listens to the people. The council is determined to continue to find a way to improve the lives of residents by making the council work smarter, putting people at the centre of what it does and ensuring that it maximises the way it uses public money to achieve residents’ priorities, which include delivering economic prosperity and good social care—priorities that came up time and again among our residents.
Like many other councils, North Tyneside has great staff, who are dedicated and work under extreme pressure. I am grateful for all that they do to help North Tyneside survive in the face of such stringent Government cuts. I ask the Minister when the Government will realise that councils across the country have reached breaking point. When will the Government restore funding to a level that enables our hard-working councillors and council staff to deliver the best possible services not just to the people of North Tyneside, but to the whole country as it is what the people expect and deserve.
Finally, I wish all the candidates standing in next week’s elections the best of luck, but I wish the very best of luck to all our Labour candidates, especially the one in North Tyneside.