Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

Part of Department for Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 2nd July 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Co-National Campaign Coordinator, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 6:30 pm, 2nd July 2019

We have had a thorough and full debate, and I think quite a thoughtful debate from those on both sides of the House. I add my thanks to the Backbench Business Committee for choosing the topic of Housing, Communities and Local Government for this estimates day debate.

I thank Layla Moran for the way in which she opened the debate. She set out a very real concern that is felt across all parties in this House about the impact of a decade of constraints on local government and the effect that that is now having on our public services. However, it would be remiss of me not to say that she and the Liberal Democrats displayed a little bit of collective amnesia, because they were in government between 2010 and 2015. It does seem that “Sorry” is the hardest word. In her defence, she said that she campaigned against these cuts as a candidate, but her Ministers slashed and burned many of the services she referred to. The crisis in local government today, the crisis in adult social care today and the crisis in children’s services today have their roots in the coalition years, and the Minister for local government was a Liberal Democrat—he is now Lord Stunell of Hazel Grove—although he occasionally got locked in the Opposition Lobby in votes, which is perhaps why he was very quickly moved.

I want to pay tribute to the other contributions: from my hon. Friend Mr Betts, who is the Chair of the Select Committee and brings so much knowledge to these debates; from my right hon. Friend Mr Jones and my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell), for York Central (Rachael Maskell) and for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western); and from the Conservatives, the hon. Members for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) and for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), Priti Patel, and the hon. Members for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) and for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes).

I want to echo the right hon. Member for Witham, who mentioned that she is married to a councillor. It would be really remiss of me not to mention that I, too, am married to a councillor—Councillor Allison Gwynne—on Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council. I am incredibly proud that both my councils have, since May, had a female leader. The councils are very ably led by two incredible Labour women. Councillor Brenda Warrington, the leader of Tameside, has been joined by Councillor Elise Wilson, the new leader of Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council. They are both doing great work. I also want to thank all our dedicated council staff and councillors of all political persuasions and none for the incredible work that they do in making sure our communities are looked after. While they have continued to work hard and to lobby for the resources they need to do their job, they know—and we know actually—just how hard that job has become over the last few years. The debate has put out the message in various ways, but it is the same on both sides of the House: increasing concern about the growing crisis in local government funding and the huge cost pressures, particularly in children and adult services.

The consequence of the cost pressures in those people-based services is that the place-based services—the neighbourhood services—are squeezed. The conundrum for local councillors is that most people think that their council is there to deliver the place-based services. They are the things that they see: bins being emptied, streets being swept, parks being maintained, libraries being open and youth centres existing. Those services are squeezed to pay for the pressures in children and adult services.

I will rattle off a few figures: 763 youth centres and more than 700 libraries have closed, and Sure Start has been cut in half, since 2010. Yet local government is the beating heart of our communities. Our councils keep our streets cleaner and safer, protect the most vulnerable in society and maintain our green spaces. When we inevitably grow older, we hope that our councils will be there to provide the services to give us dignity in old age.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central said, we should work towards Total Place. The previous Labour Government were keen on developing the notion that all public bodies, across the public sector, should work towards the same strategy and outcomes, and ensure that there are proper joined-up, people-based services. Our councils are the lynchpin of providing cohesive, joined-up public services, whether housing, police and crime prevention, leisure services, youth services or public health, which widens into the national health service.