I appreciate that this has been a contentious debate, but may I start by expressing my huge appreciation for the incredible work that councils across the country have been doing to help lead the response to the pandemic? They have been at the frontline of the response in areas such as social care, testing and ensuring public safety, and they have continued to do an outstanding job in delivering the day-to-day services that we all rely on so much, including waste collection, highways maintenance, park management and so much more. May I also join my hon. Friend Steve Double in praising parish and town councils, which have worked so hard over the course of this year to deliver their services?
Unfortunately, what we have heard today is an Opposition who completely misunderstand some of the basic rules of local government finance. The premise of their argument seems to be that the Government are somehow forcing councils to increase council tax by failing to provide adequate support in response to the pandemic. However, if we step back and look at the basic facts, we will see that nothing could be further from the truth.
If Members look at councils’ self-reported figures to our Department, which project that cost pressures for covid total £6.9 billion, and compare that with the £8 billion that we have already provided to councils since March, they will see that we have provided them with £1 billion more than they are spending in response to this pandemic. On top of that, we have provided a business rates holiday worth about £10 billion to retail, hospitality and leisure industries. We have also given councils over £17 billion to provide grants to thousands of businesses across the country, and we have seen some incredible work from councils in getting those grants directly to affected businesses. We have also introduced a sales, fees and charges scheme, supported leisure centres and supported councils with local tax losses. Councils will continue to receive funding through the contain outbreak management fund, to tackle the spread of the virus. That is worth over £225 million a month. We are backing local government all the way with the necessary funding now and into the future.