Local Government Finance (England)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:54 pm on 10th February 2021.

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Photo of Antony Higginbotham Antony Higginbotham Conservative, Burnley 5:54 pm, 10th February 2021

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. I want to start in the same way that many others have, in my case by thanking Lancashire County Council and Burnley Borough Council for all they have done to support our local residents to get through covid, from providing social care to our most vulnerable residents and working with businesses to get them covid-secure through to administering so many of the Government’s support schemes, which have proved essential to keeping our economy going. While not everything they do is in the public’s sight—lots of it is behind the scenes—it is essential none the less.

Unfortunately, some of the lines coming from the Labour party in this debate are simply untrue. Labour’s approach to funding seems to resemble that of Goldilocks —it does not matter what is done, how much is provided or what the scheme looks like; it is never quite right. I made a promise to the people of Burnley and Padiham that I would bring Government focus and Government investment, and this funding settlement and the broader actions that the Government are taking demonstrate that that is exactly what we are doing. This Government are laser-focused on levelling up and tackling covid-19.

In the last year alone, more than £11 billion has been provided to local authorities. That includes more than £50 million to Burnley Borough Council and £141 million to Lancashire County Council for nothing other than covid. Let me break that funding down, because it has helped residents, businesses and families. Just for Burnley, that is £34.27 million of total grant funding for businesses; £1.48 million of council tax hardship funding; £11.1 million of business rates relief; £95,000 for domestic abuse services; £114,000 of self-isolation grant funding; £100,000 funding for a community champion, announced just the other week; £350,000 for compensation for lost income from car parking charges and so on; £78,000 for reopening high streets—the list goes on.

Then there is an extra £2.11 million of funding for the council’s day-to-day services that have been impacted by covid-19—for example, refuse collection and green spaces. That is not to mention the extra £2 million that the Prime Minister announced for Pioneer Place in Burnley town centre as one of his shovel-ready schemes—something the local Labour council likes to avoid mentioning. Does that sound like a council that is seeing Government funding withheld? Does it sound like a Government who are going back on their promise to do whatever it takes? I do not think it does. That approach continues into next year, which is evident from the finance settlement that we are debating.

My Labour council leader likes to claim that it is never enough. He was in the press just the other day saying, “We’ve had an increase, but—”. Well, there is no “but”. If we add up all the funding that I just spoke about, it translates to £24 per capita in Burnley—£24 per person to deal with covid-19. That is in addition to the core grant that the Government give the council for its day-to-day services and the income it gets from council tax. In comparison, the national average is £15 for a typical district or borough council—£24 for Burnley and £15 on average.

I will never stop lobbying the Government and standing up in the House to ask for more support for Burnley, and those on the Government Front Bench know that. I will work with whatever administration we have in Burnley town hall, but we have to focus on the facts, and the facts show us that this Government are providing the support needed. Core spending power going into next year will be higher than it is this year. That is not a Government who are taking money away; it is a Government who are supporting residents across Burnley and Padiham. None of us should apologise for trying to ensure value for money in town halls. Every penny spent in a town hall is money raised through either council tax or general taxation, but it all comes from the same pot—it all comes from the same local residents and local businesses that work day in, day out to earn that money.

We need a bit more transparency. If local authorities are going to raise council tax, they need to be much clearer about why they are doing it, particularly if they are inserting that “but” at the end: “We have had more funding from Government, but—”. That “but” tells us that they want to increase council tax, so residents should feel free to write to their local councillors and say, “What is it that you need the extra money for that isn’t being provided for by Government?” The answer cannot always be more tax rises. We have to squeeze every penny and pound out of the money we give to our local authorities. That is what our residents deserve.