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Local Government Finance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:11 pm on 5th February 2020.

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Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South 3:11 pm, 5th February 2020

I am pleased that we are having this Opposition day debate on a topic that directly impacts on all our constituents’ day-to-day lives. The aim of any Government should be to ensure that people’s day-to-day lives are improved and to give people a greater stake in society. To achieve that, we must empower the collective voice of our communities—our local councils.

Instead of listening to and supporting our councils, the past 10 years of Tory austerity have seen their resources cut, with no account taken of deprivation and demand-led need. Many services have been pushed to breaking point. It has created an impossible task for local councils so, rather than looking to improve lives, as councils want to do, they are now desperately trying to sustain the safety of local people.

We have a brilliant Labour-led council in Luton that listens and responds to its local community, but it can only do so much when, year on year, central Government funding is cut, which has led to over £130 million-worth of cuts since 2010. Spending has needed to be redirected to address the increasing demand for adult social care and children’s services, on which much has already been said, and to address the disgraceful rise in homelessness, which is particularly affecting Luton. Both issues require a national strategy, not just local sticking-plasters.

Since 2010, Luton has seen spending on libraries, museums and heritage services cut by 55%; spending on transport and local bus services cut by 55%; and spending on community safety cut by nearly 30%. This Government have completely dismantled our local councils’ ability to improve communities on the frontline. Now our councils’ simple aim is to best soften the blow of austerity.

These irresponsible cuts have directly led to the suffering of vulnerable people in my constituency. By cutting the revenue support grant and central funding, the Government are increasing the emphasis on regressive taxation such as council tax and business rates. In areas such as Luton, we cannot raise as much council tax due to the size of our houses—the majority are band A and band B properties. Even if we could raise council tax, we know that many people are struggling to pay it. We cannot raise much income through the new homes bonus because we are a very urban area and cannot build many more houses.

The Government profess to be increasing spending as part of their council funding review but, as has been repeatedly said, a simple increase in per-head funding would not be based on need. In our area, such an increase represents a giveaway to the Tory leafy shires—I could go on—at the expense of more deprived post-industrial towns, which have disproportionately higher levels of deprivation. The situation is stark in my constituency, which differs from the constituency of Michael Tomlinson.

The whole of Luton South deserves investment. Will the Minister explain to me and my constituents why the Caddington area of my constituency, which falls under Central Bedfordshire Council—a more rural, Tory council—will receive an indicative 20% increase, whereas the Luton Borough Council area of my constituency, which covers many more areas of deprivation, will receive only a 1.5% increase? Taking those figures another way, can he explain why people living in Luton Borough Council’s Biscot ward, where child poverty is at 55%, do not deserve at least the same increase as those living in Caddington, where child poverty is at 15%? Are children in Biscot worth less than children in Caddington? I say not. In my constituency we are all equal. Funding needs to be allocated based on people’s needs, not on political giveaways.

Decisions made in Whitehall are completely detached from the streets of Luton. I ask the Minister, or any of the ministerial team, to come and visit Luton—it is a short hop on the train, so it is easy to do—to see the difference. Come and visit Biscot, Dallow, South or Farley and tell my constituents that they do not deserve increased investment in their services.

If the Government’s latest funding announcement actually represented a fair funding review, I guarantee that Luton would be receiving a much higher funding increase than 1.5%.