Local Government Finance (England)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:59 pm on 10th February 2021.

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Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington 5:59 pm, 10th February 2021

After 28 years of hard Labour in Darlington, with ever-increasing council tax, ever-decreasing quality of services, our arts centre closed, daft traffic management experiments and our precious Crown Street library under threat, in May 2019 the people of Darlington voted for change. The new Conservative-led administration has reversed the traffic experiment, saved the library, putting it in the hands of trustees, and made sure that our town is much cleaner than it has been in a very long time.

Throughout 2020, Darlington really stepped up to the plate, rolling out community testing, dispatching Government grants quickly, and now providing call centre support to the vaccine effort. I must record my thanks to everyone at Darlington Borough Council for their amazing efforts—every street sweeper, every administrator and every leisure team member who has taken on new roles. This help has been enabled, in part, thanks to the swift provision of funds from Government, which has enabled local authorities like mine to truly serve their communities, together with the prudent financial management of a Conservative-led council like Darlington’s that has this year balanced its books.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and Ministers have worked quickly with councils to ensure that they have the resources to support those affected by the virus, including the much-appreciated covid winter grant helping families with food and bills at this time of need. The Government have already provided £8 billion directly to relieve financial pressures during the pandemic. It is right that the local government finance settlement for 2021-22 reflects fresh challenges as we emerge from the pandemic. I am delighted that local government will receive an extra £2.3 billion, including a £300 million boost to the social care grant, bringing total core funding to £51.2 billion, with Darlington Borough Council set to see an increase in core spending power from £88.2 million to £92.5 million.

Putting a freeze on the business rates multiplier is a welcome move for local businesses. Keeping it at 49.9p will alleviate some concerns, and I am relieved that central Government have committed to make up the shortfall, but in the long term our business rates system does need reform.

For all top-tier local authorities, adult social care and children’s social care remains one of the biggest responsibilities they have in providing the care that many of our youngest and oldest vulnerable citizens depend on. This is important in addressing the issues facing local government and our society. Social care requires a serious debate about how we fund it into the future, without petty point-scoring stifling discussion.

The challenges of our high street, with the shift to online shopping, demand a discussion of how we raise the money needed in a fair way that does not discourage investment in our high streets. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has done an incredible job in supporting businesses in Darlington through furlough and the self-employed scheme, alongside the continued commitment to the investment in our mainline station. Indeed, having set out how great Darlington is, with its excellent Conservative-led authority, and echoing the words of my hon. Friend and neighbour Paul Howell, I firmly hope that the Chancellor will consider us as a location for Treasury North.

In thanking the Chancellor, I must also thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the £23.3 million under the towns fund, which will help us to rejuvenate our town and establish our railway heritage quarter—the real home of Locomotion No. 1. We look forward to the levelling-up fund and the opportunity to bid for more funds that will help us to fulfil the Prime Minister’s ambition of a truly one nation country. This finance settlement is welcome and will help us to bounce back. I know the people of Darlington welcome the support that we have had and continue to have.