It is a great opportunity to speak in this important debate, and a pleasure to follow Matt Western.
Local government is at the heart of what we all do as constituency MPs. We are all put on these Benches to stand up for our local communities, and that has certainly been at the centrepiece of all my campaigns and everything I have done since I have been lucky enough to represent the wonderful new town of Redditch.
The context of this debate has been articulated clearly by many Members: spending had to be constrained, for all sorts of reasons, by an incoming Government in 2010. That seems like a long time ago, but in financial terms it is really a very short period. Difficult decisions had to be made. Local and county councils have been at the frontline of some of those decisions with the priorities that had to be set. Some of them have done an extremely good job under very difficult circumstances. My hon. Friend Lee Rowley pointed out that we must always think about efficiency and how we are spending hard-working taxpayers’ money. I pay tribute to the work that has been done in Redditch to that end. I will therefore focus on the needs of Redditch and what we are doing in the local area, and then touch on adult social care.
I have been proud to work, together with my colleagues, on a campaign that we call Unlock Redditch, which is about releasing the potential of our town. It is a new town that faces challenges similar to those in other communities up and down the country. I very much thank our local council officers and the wonderful team of colleagues led by Councillor Matt Dormer, who has been successful in bucking the national trend in election results for the last three elections in a row. We have made gains on our local district council, which is doing an absolutely immense job in championing the needs of our area. In recent times, plans have been put forward to build over 600 new council homes, mostly bungalows. This is the first council house building programme in Redditch since 1998. Account has been taken of the needs of some of the most vulnerable groups in society. A new policy has been brought in to exempt care leavers from council tax. We are working very hard on our future high streets fund bid. We are also bidding for heritage action zones funding. I see the Minister is taking notes. We really want this bid to be successful.
Although we are a new town, we are built around a historic core. We have a beautiful church in our town centre surrounded by a lovely green. It is an attractive place for people to come to, but, like most areas, it needs just a little bit of TLC. That would really boost our town’s chances of being at the forefront as a tourism destination for leisure and shopping, helping to lure people away from the charms of inner-city Birmingham and Solihull—because, after all, who wants to go there when they could go to the Kingfisher shopping centre in Redditch? Of course, you are very welcome yourself, Mr Deputy Speaker. I know you have many friends in Redditch, and they would be pleased to see you there. We have also been successful in implementing grants from the LEP. We want to see our train station redeveloped and the line dualled so that we can much more easily travel into Birmingham for leisure and for work.
I want to say a little bit about adult social care. It is common knowledge that the pressures on adult social care are causing immense difficulties, and it is no different in Worcestershire. Our county council is spending some £187.7 million on the social care budget generally, a large proportion of which is on adult social care. When I came into this role—I have been an MP for only two years—I remember having my first meetings with Worcestershire County Council and being told that the county used to have so-called £1 million families who, due to a combination of needs, needed £1 million-worth of support. There were a few of those families, and of course that placed pressure on services. Now we are seeing more so-called £10 million families. Need is always rising, and these families are the most vulnerable. They have a complex picture of needs, taken together, whether to do with housing, multiple disability or education and schooling. Such a family must have the support that we all want them to have, but it becomes much more difficult to meet the ever rising level of demand.
We have often attempted as politicians to answer the conundrum of doing more on social care. Frankly, that was an absolute disaster in the 2017 election—I think we can all be honest about that. We tried to come up with policies to tackle the issue, as we needed to do, but the heat and light of an election was absolutely the wrong time to do it. It became a political football and a toxic issue. It was utterly the wrong way to do it. We must get together across the Benches—I think there is an appetite for that—to look at things such as the German model, advocated by my hon. Friend Bill Grant. I have learned a lot from my hon. Friend. We have to think about how to harness the wealth locked up in people’s homes and how we contribute as a society to making this the best country in the world at taking care of elderly people.
I am sure that our two leadership candidates are watching this debate—they have nothing better to do. I absolutely believe that both of them will focus on adult social care. They, like all of us, will have constituents with such issues in their surgeries and affected family members. I have spoken about my mother’s dementia—a catastrophic illness, and the care costs can escalate. Our next Prime Minister has to have adult social care on the agenda. Whoever makes that a priority will receive my full support.