Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:16 pm on 17th December 2020.

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Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government 1:16 pm, 17th December 2020

I echo the hon. Gentleman’s thanks to local council workers across the country. He talks about our pledge to support local councils and to ensure that they are fully funded for the work that they have done during covid, and we have made good on that promise. We have provided £7.2 billion already. Local councils to date have reported that they have spent £4 billion and are projecting that they will spend almost £6.2 billion to the end of the year, so we will have provided local councils with as much, if not more, funding than they have reported.

The hon. Gentleman refers to funding for local council tax losses and for sales fees and charges. Our schemes are extremely generous in both regards, providing 75p in the pound of losses for local councils to ensure that they can weather the particular storm that they have been through this year. He refers to council tax costs. Local councils are not under any obligation to increase council taxes. We only have to look back at the record of the last Labour Government to see what happens under Labour. Under Labour, council tax doubled. Under this Conservative Government, council tax is lower in real terms today than it was in 2010-11.

It is difficult to see how the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues can pose as the guardians of taxpayer value. I appreciate that he is on what we might call a sticky wicket in this regard. We only have to look at his local Labour council in Croydon. It purchased a hotel above the asking price, which has now gone bankrupt. It created a housing company with a £200 million loan and it could not say whether it had built any houses. The cabinet has been described as acting like some kind of wrecking ball, except that the wrecking ball was directed at its own council. Or, indeed, we could look at Nottingham’s Labour council, which was described recently by its auditors as having “institutional blindness” to its financial mismanagement and ineptitude, which included creating an energy company called Robin Hood. That is a rather unusual definition of Robin Hood’s activities—instead of taking from the rich, it robbed off everyone.

The truth is that under Labour councils, it is the public who lose out. The public will pay the price in Croydon in lost jobs, poorer services and, ultimately, higher council taxes. We will continue to support local councils, the overwhelming majority of which, of all political persuasions, have done a sterling job this year, and we will ensure that they get the resources they need to continue that work into the new year.