Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Local Government Finance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:39 pm on 5th February 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Devolution) 3:39 pm, 5th February 2020

Better late than never. The hon. Gentleman has missed contributions highlighting the impact of austerity and cuts on many of the seats now represented by Conservative MPs. It is little wonder that the actual formula—the data, analysis and impact—has not been shared with the House at all. Why is that? The answer is that the Government realised that they need to go back—[Interruption.] I am going to continue, so that the Minister has time to respond.

Council tax increases generate very different amounts of money, depending on the locality and its funding base. A 5% increase in Wokingham would generate £5.2 million, while the same percentage increase in Knowsley would generate just half that amount, even though both areas have a similar population base. That is no way to fund adult social care. There is a genuine postcode lottery whereby house price valuations that are nearly 30 years old determine whether somebody gets looked after in their old age. I just do not think that is a fair way to do it.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Kate Osborne on her fantastic maiden speech. What stood out in particular for me was the sense of the power of community. In spite of deindustrialisation and the real pressures faced through austerity, it is the power of people and place that binds and makes communities. The Government just need to be a bit more on their side in future, compared with the past 10 years.

My hon. Friend Mr Sharma highlighted that £300 million has been taken from his local authority budget, and noted that the fair funding review is far from fair. It takes money from areas of high deprivation and directs it to more affluent areas, which is absolutely the opposite of fair.

My hon. Friend Rachel Hopkins highlighted a £130 million cut and its impact on neighbourhoods. My hon. Friend Florence Eshalomi highlighted the important role that councillors play in making sure that we have strong local leadership, but they need Government on their side. Far too often, when we ask the Government to step up and to do what is right, they are late in doing so, like some Members arriving in the Chamber. The example was given of the Government being far too late in responding to the cladding issues facing many tower blocks. I am afraid that that is just not good enough.

The truth is that the Government do not want to talk about finance. They know that they are not on strong ground on that issue. They certainly do not want to give any detail about the fair funding review, because it would highlight just how unfair the review really is. I am glad that the Ministers are sitting down, because this will surprise them: we are not going to accept the amendment tabled in the Prime Minister’s name. It does not mention finance; it talks about devolution. The Prime Minister wants to be able to pretend that his flavour of devolution is all about giving people power, but that is not what we have experienced.

Under this Government, many parts of this country have been denied devolution. There is no clear framework to enable local areas to know exactly what types of powers can be devolved to them. What we see with this Government is a flavour of devolution that goes from Ministers to Mayors, whereas Labour recognises that to give real power to communities, we need to start off in neighbourhoods and work up to the nation. Neighbourhoods and communities have not been central to the Government’s devolution agenda, and that has been the hallmark of all we have seen from this Government. I am glad that Labour Mayors are using their powers to ensure that the worst excesses of this Government do not filter down as strongly through to their communities they serve.

We have talked about the town centre fund. Clearly, all of us want to see investment in our town centres. We recognise their importance at the heart of our communities, and the decline that many have seen while retail has struggled to catch up with the online world. But frankly, we will never make progress if the Government are not willing to recognise that the business rates system is actively harming our high streets and town centres. It is not good enough to give just the local independents a boost. Of course that is welcome, but it does not go far enough. Doing only that massively underestimates the importance of anchor stores to bring footfall into big town centres.