Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

Part of Department for Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 5:36 pm on 2nd July 2019.

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Photo of Gareth Snell Gareth Snell Labour/Co-operative, Stoke-on-Trent Central 5:36 pm, 2nd July 2019

I thank my hon. Friend for that and for presciently leading on to my next point, which is about how devolution settlements work and the myriad different settlements that we have, across England predominantly, with city deals, local enterprise partnership arrangements or mayoral combined authorities. That means there are lots of arrangements we can look at to find best practice and then share it. There are examples of mayoral authorities dealing with their housing crisis in clever ways which traditional two-tier local authority areas have neither the capacity in their staff base to do, to be candid, nor perhaps the demand in their local areas for.

If we are to have that accountability structure, there needs to be a greater role for the Department, whatever it might be called. Civil servants from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government were asked a very simple question at a recent appearance before the Public Accounts Committee: “You say local authority funding is sustainable; what is the matrix by which you make that assessment?” The civil servants were very good at answering some questions, but were unable to give us an exact demonstration of how they make that decision. The NAO disagreed with them on a fact-based, evidence-based assessment, yet when that question was put by numerous members of the Committee, some more vociferously than others, they were unable to give us a clear explanation of how they make those sorts of determinations. If we are going to be serious about the way in which local government is funded, there has to be strong overview and oversight by Departments, but we also need to trust local government.

Local government has been given a series of new responsibilities. I was a councillor and I know that local authorities welcome new responsibilities because it allows them to flex their muscles and do things in an imaginative and innovative way. However, they are restricted in how they are able to deliver them—they find themselves straitjacketed—and they suddenly find themselves carrying unnecessary burdens in order to deliver something that they know they could do better if they were allowed to. They do not make a hash of it but they end up not reaching their full potential.