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I want to deal first with the myth that is perpetuated about the so-called economic mismanagement of the last Labour Government. Until 2008, that Government had an excellent record of controlling both the national debt and national deficit as a percentage of GDP. From 2008 to 2010, the increase in deficit and debt was not due to overspending; it was due to the collapse in revenues because of the banking crash, which affected every Government in the western world—that is the truth of the situation.
I will concentrate my comments on matters relating to the remit of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, not because I am not interested in matters to do with the police, education and the national health service—of course I am—but because of time restrictions.
I want first to deal with local government spending. The Government have said that there will be extra spending power for local councils. It has now become clear that that depends on councils putting their council tax up by 4%. A 4% council tax increase is what the Government are requiring of councils to deliver the spending power that the Government say they will have, including a 2% increase to fund social care.
As Councillor George Lindars-Hammond said the other day, 2% for Sheffield is very different from 2% for Westminster. The position is even worse for some other small authorities, which will simply not be able to raise the money to provide the social care their citizens need. Of course, it is all right—isn’t it, Mr Speaker?—because we will have social care reform. The Queen’s Speech says that we will have legislation on social care. I welcome that, as I have welcomed the similar promises on the seven or eight occasions they have been made before. When will we get at least a Green Paper on social care? Will social care be kicked into the long grass once again?
I welcome the reference in the Queen’s Speech to devolution, which has been on the back burner for too long. Good work was done with the deals and setting up mayoral combined authorities. I am just a bit disappointed that the Queen’s Speech refers to more of the same: city deals, other sorts of deals or enhancing those already in place. We need a comprehensive devolution framework, which as of right devolves powers to all local authorities—urban or rural, cities or towns— throughout the country that want to take them up. We should move towards that, and the Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government is holding an inquiry on devolution. I am sure all members of the Committee will push for devolving powers to local authorities. We want more progress on devolution, but I welcome at least the mention of it in the Queen’s Speech and the commitment to doing something about it.