This year we gave £20 million to the Local Government Association to fund council improvements, we introduced a programme to boost the use of digital technologies, and we are developing a tool to help councils improve efficiency. These measures will help councils continue their impressive work to manage budgets and deliver quality services.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that councils should do their utmost to learn from best practice so that hard-working taxpayers are not burdened with bills, and that it is disgraceful that my local council, Labour-controlled Sefton, has wasted £32.5 million on a dilapidated shopping centre?
My hon. Friend rightly makes the point about Sefton, and councils should absolutely be focused on delivering good-quality services and value for money. That is why we are investing in areas such as digital innovation and looking at how that can drive further support. My hon. Friend is also right about ensuring that good practice is shared, and we are working with the LGA and others on that.
I am sure the Secretary of State will accept that local government has had a 30% cut in spending since 2010 and also that councils have done incredibly well through efficiency savings and other measures to mitigate the worst impact of the cuts, but has he now seen the report by PwC for the County Councils Network saying that by 2025 there will be an £8 billion funding gap for councils? Does he accept that efficiency savings are not going to bridge that gap and that what we need now is an end to austerity and a major increase in funding for councils from the Government? Will he go to the Treasury and argue for that to happen?
I need no encouragement from the hon. Gentleman to make that case for local government and its power and ability to deliver good-quality local services. I recognise the challenge the hon. Gentleman brings to me in his question, but I highlight to him the real-terms increase in core spending power made available to councils this year. This Government have made that commitment to councils, but I absolutely want to be on the side of councils and commend them for their innovation and the work they do.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his answers thus far. May I commend to him a booklet published in 2011, with a forward by one of his notable predecessors, on efficiency in local government, which I had something to do with? May I suggest that no authority in the country has yet taken every single efficiency measure, and that we should roll that out right across the country?
I certainly look forward to perhaps continuing this discussion with my hon. Friend outside the Chamber, and I commend him for his work in rightly highlighting the issue of value for money. Of course we can and should do more, and it is important that where there is good practice we learn from that.
Is the Secretary of State aware that 544 homes across Kent managed by East Kent Housing have not been regularly subjected to vital landlord gas safety assessments, and has he had conversations with the four local authorities, cash-strapped themselves, across the affected parts of Kent to make sure that this never happens again?
I am very willing to talk to the hon. Lady about the issue she highlights, and obviously safety for residents is an absolute priority concern for me and Members across the House, so if there are further details that she would like to share with me I would be very happy to pursue this on behalf of her and her constituents.
Conservative-controlled North West Leicestershire District Council has frozen its council tax for the past decade. Can the Secretary of State confirm that council tax in 93 English local authorities is lower in real terms this year than it was in 2010-11?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the great work of so many Conservative councils up and down the country, with their sense of value for money, delivering for local people and local services and ensuring that council tax is kept low. This is absolutely about getting those priorities right and delivering for local people.
When the Secretary of State looks at those efficiencies, is he aware of the New Local Government Network’s findings that a no-deal Brexit could contribute to an increase in demand for services to provide vulnerable people and families with support? Is he also aware that council grants in England from central Government have been reduced by nearly 50%, not to mention the £80 billion black hole in UK Government finances that a no-deal Brexit would leave? Will he and any future Prime Minister tell us how they will protect the most vulnerable in our society from a no-deal Brexit scenario, because they will certainly not be able to do it through efficiencies?
I appreciate that the hon. Lady is making her own point in her own way. Obviously, local government is devolved in Scotland, and she also makes her own point in relation to no deal. Preparations have been put in place and funding has been provided to a number of local councils in England, and we are ensuring that the money designed for EU preparations actually gets to where it needs to go, whereas that has not always been the case with the Scottish Government.