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Local Government Responsibilities: Public Services

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:43 pm on 18th March 2020.

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Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Devolution) 4:43 pm, 18th March 2020

That is absolutely true, and it is also true that many lives are lost, in terms of potential, through the criminalisation of young people who are effectively groomed into criminality by those in positions of power or authority in the community who attract them in and entice them. We need to do far more to make clear to young people across the country that there is a real alternative when it comes to leading a fulfilled life. Until then, we will never break the cycle of young people being caught in crime unnecessarily.

This goes right to the heart of the “cradle to the grave” approach to public service. We cannot ignore the impact on Sure Start centres, which were about investing in young people and giving them a taste of what opportunity was from the time when they were young and receiving that type of care. Taking it away has had a massive impact, and that is before we get on to primary school budgets and special educational needs. Young people are just not receiving the tailored support that they need.

However, today is also about thanking councils for the work that they do. Regardless of party affiliation, I want to place on record our thanks for the work that councillors do. They come into public service from their community because they really want to make a difference. Hearing from some of the councillors and ex-councillors who are now in this place about the passion and connection that they still feel, as I do, is very inspiring. We must also thank our council officers.

After 10 years of austerity, councils have experienced a very stressful period in trying to reconcile delivering balanced budgets to remain within the law with managing the huge demand for adult social care, children’s services and services for the homeless. People believe they pay council tax for the very neighbourhood services that are being taken away because councils cannot afford to make ends meet and provide those services. Councils are placed in a horrible position. They are trying to keep their heads above water, and providing targeted support for people who really need it, but at the same time the public are holding them to account for the real cuts that have been made locally. I do not think that that is a fair burden for central Government to place on local government.

That brings me to council tax, which is a hugely regressive tax. It has increased by a third, and what was hidden in the Budget papers was, within the lifetime of that Budget, an £8 billion increase in council tax income for the Treasury. The Government are not coming to the table and giving councils sufficient funds to deal with the demands of adult social care and children’s services in particular. What they are saying is “It is the survival of the fittest. If you can raise money through council tax or business rate retention, good luck, but if you cannot, I am afraid that you can no longer rely on central Government to step in and provide that partnership solution.”

That is just not a fair way of doing things. How can it be right that today, in England—and we have an English problem, because of the nature of how the country is governed—adult social care and people’s ability to access the care that they need will soon be determined by the house values in their area in 1991? How can it be right that they will be based on historic industrial and commercial land values and the business rate take in that area, when the council has very little control over that base? With every revaluation, we see many regions being devalued, and London and the south-east increasing in value. That will be the model, the baseline, of public service funding in the future.

I mentioned the survival of the fittest, but the fittest are not that fit. Local government still faces a £6 billion funding gap between now and 2025. There will still be people in the most affluent parts of the country who are living in absolute destitution and not getting the support that they need because councils do not have the necessary funds.