I am glad the hon. Gentleman raises that, because when I won control of Lambeth Council for the Labour party in 2006, we took over from an administration, jointly run by the Conservatives, that had raised council tax by 33% over four years, and yet service performance was on the floor. I froze council tax, with no increase at all for two years, and despite doing so, we raised the performance of standards that were left on the floor by Conservatives and achieved an outstanding rating in every single category of children’s services. We did that because Labour Members understand value for money, while Conservative Members simply do not.
The proof of that is in what the Government are trying to do with the council tax rise this year. Families who are worried about paying their heating bills or putting food on the table simply cannot afford it. It will put them under even greater financial strain and it will hit high streets that, right now, are struggling to survive. Many local businesses are on their last legs financially after years of restrictions. These tax rises threaten to choke off spending, just as we need the economy to start opening up and motoring after the pandemic.
With the Government now in full retreat on the devolution agenda, there is still one thing they are very interested in devolving, and that is the blame for cuts and council tax hikes made in Downing Street. The Secretary of State tried to justify the tax hike by claiming he is giving councils a choice—I am sure he will repeat that at the Dispatch Box today—but the truth is he is not. The Government’s funding plans, published in December, include the expectation—an assumption, not an option—that council tax will go up.
Councils’ biggest long-term financial headache is how to pay for social care. As more people, thankfully, live longer, councils need more funding to offer frail older people the care they need to make the most of their lives, but the Government have cut funding over the past decade, forcing councils to restrict care, so it is available only to those in the most severe categories of need. On his very first day in office, standing on the steps of No. 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister told the country he had a plan to fix the social care crisis. No one has seen a dot or comma of that plan since, so councils have been forced to keep cutting, because the Prime Minister’s plan does not seem to exist—unless the Secretary of State can tell us differently when he speaks at the Dispatch Box.
Let us not forget that because a council tax increase raises less money in poorer areas, the Government are deepening the postcode lottery for social care, instead of ensuring that every single older and disabled person anywhere in our country gets the care they need, regardless of where they live. This Government are not levelling the country up; they are pulling the country apart.