Like a lot of people here, I found my route to Westminster via the town hall. I was quite surprised to listen to the oration by Barbara Keeley, because I was a councillor in her constituency for eight years. I sat through eight Salford City Council budgets, listened to the same speech year after year from the leader and then the elected Mayor as they decried the Government, and then I took out a copy of the previous year’s Salford Conservative Policy Forum alternative budget, which I penned myself, and ticked off each of the supposedly cruel and unconscionable measures that they rejected previously, having enacted them a year too late to do any good.
Financial mismanagement is the hallmark of Labour authorities. Pointless and often ruinous vanity projects are dressed up with Blair-era names like Invest to Save, and millions of pounds of taxpayers’ hard-earned money is shovelled in to prop them up as it transpires that local authorities probably should not be running, for example, a rugby stadium in Salford or an energy supplier in Nottingham.
In my experience, Labour authorities, far from being forced to increase council tax, have been some of the most enthusiastic proponents of increases, and Greater Manchester is a prime example. In Heywood and Middleton, my constituents will be faced with a council tax rise of almost 5%. The council is hiking rates by 3.99%. Andy Burnham will be adding the maximum £10 allowed for the police precept, and another £14 on top for his general precept. That will put a minimum burden of £58 per household on my constituency. Andy is right that it is the minimum, because he actually wanted more. Members will be aware that Andy got himself into a spot of bother recently as Greater Manchester police were taken into special measures because 80,000 crimes were not recorded. Despite being the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester and being warned by councillors, officers and MPs, Andy was apparently oblivious to this, but he has magnanimously promised to fix it—although it will cost you.
For Labour Members to come here and complain about council tax rises when their colleagues at local level have tripled the average council tax over the past 20 years so that the average council tax in a Labour authority is £84 higher than the equivalent in a Conservative authority is a heady mix of hubris, chutzpah and old-fashioned brass neck. Once again they come here with a false narrative, intending to stoke up an army of social media trolls, encouraging them to share misleading and sometimes entirely wrong posts and graphics, and to abuse and threaten, while they feign their dismay at these tactics in this Chamber. Instead of riling people up and deliberately frightening the most vulnerable, a serious Opposition would have come here with an alternative and wanting to debate with the Government about the best way to do things—but sadly, not today.