I would like to personally pay tribute to the hard-working staff of Hartlepool Borough Council.
Over the last decade, austerity has led to public sector cuts to local authorities, which have caused major job losses and cuts to vital services. Hartlepool has seen this on a grand scale. Because of our high levels of deprivation, growing costs and dwindling funding from Whitehall, our council tax is proportionately some of the highest anywhere in the country. As one of the most deprived local authorities in the country, departments such as children’s and adults’ services were stretched in capacity prior to the pandemic, despite the best efforts of council staff. Poverty levels, especially child poverty levels, have risen dramatically over the last decade. Local government costs for children’s services have increased in line with those demands, even before the cost of the pandemic has to be taken into account. My constituents are already paying through the nose for a bear minimum of services, which the council can just about afford. Three successive Tory Governments have caused this situation, even without consideration of the effects of the pandemic on local government finances. The Chancellor promised no new tax hikes this year, so instead he is trying to introduce them by stealth through local councils. People will see right through that. Even the local Conservatives in Hartlepool recognise that the plan would be a disaster for the people of Hartlepool and that no member of the public will respect any politician who tries to force the cost of this pandemic on to them. Locally, this council tax rise is likely to be hidden in the adult services precept to avoid embarrassment for the Tory and Brexit leadership. Hartlepool Borough Council is just about managing to deal with the current cost of the pandemic; however, that will not be so if this drags on much longer.
I am too aware that increases in council tax will hit those in the most precarious financial situations: young families; low-income families; young workers; low-income workers, and self-employed people whose businesses have been failed by the Government. The pandemic has highlighted the role and importance in our society of key workers, who are essential to its functioning; public sector and local council workers were high on the list of those key workers we clapped for week in, week out.
The Government can seemingly always find millions to throw at consultancy fees, yet with spiralling costs, millions in debt, thousands grieving the loss of loved ones and policy failure after policy failure on covid-19, local government needs proper funding. This year of all years, it is ill-timed, ill-judged and simply wrong to neglect it.