Local Government Finance (England)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:56 pm on 10th February 2021.

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Photo of Luke Hall Luke Hall Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 6:56 pm, 10th February 2021

May I begin, like so many Members, by expressing my huge appreciation for the incredible work that councils across the country have been doing to lead the response to the pandemic? Social workers, refuse collectors, carers, teachers, council officers and so many more have been on the frontline of our response to covid-19, and they have been unwavering in their determination to deliver the essential services we all rely on every day. That is why this Government have backed councils with the funding and resources they need to support our communities, businesses and local economies in this local government finance settlement.

This settlement delivers a 4.6% cash-terms increase in core spending power next year, an increase in real terms, guaranteeing that no council in England will have less funding available than last year. That comes on top of the settlement for this current financial year, which was a 4.5% rise in core spending power. That in itself was the best settlement for a decade and it was supported by every Member of this House. Alongside this settlement, in recognition of the fact that the pandemic is not yet over, we are providing a further at least £3 billion in covid-19 funding next year to support councils’ income and expenditure. That takes the total support already committed to covid-19 income and expenditure pressures to more than £11 billion.

May I thank a number of my hon. Friends for their contributions today? My hon. Friends the Members for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) and for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) both highlighted the increase in resource going to Cornwall Council, with that 4.7% rise in core spending power in cash terms. My hon. Friend Antony Higginbotham welcomed the rise in core spending power. Kate Hollern questioned how much was going to Burnley; I can tell him that it is a 2.6% rise, alongside the 5.3% rise going to Lancashire County Council. My hon. Friend Peter Gibson welcomed the extra support and swift provision of funds for Darlington Borough Council, with a 4.8% rise in core spending allowing, as he described, the council to deliver for local residents. May I put on record my thanks to Darlington Borough Council for the excellent work it is doing to restore the council to its rightful place?

I was slightly confused by the contribution from Rebecca Long Bailey when she said that there was no commitment in this settlement to increase funding in Salford. The opposite is true; in the current financial year there has been a 7.8% increase in core spending power; and the settlement we have published and are debating today sees an increase of 4.7% in core spending power for her council. I am afraid that she is incorrect in her statements.

A number of Members today raised covid support for their councils and talked about what they saw as the gap in funding between what councils spend and what we are providing them with. Councils’ self-reported figures project that covid cost pressures this year will be £6.9 billion. We have already allocated £8 billion to councils, which is over £1 billion more than they are spending in responding to the pandemic. On top of that, we have provided a business rates holiday worth around £10 billion to local retail, hospitality and leisure industries. We have given councils over £17 billion to provide grants to thousands of businesses up and down our country, and they have done an incredible job in distributing those efficiently and speedily to ensure that businesses are getting the support they need. We have also introduced a sales, fees and charges scheme to help councils manage losses in income. We are backing local government all the way with the necessary funding, both now and into the future.

One of the recurring themes of the debate was the issue of social care, which was raised by Margaret Greenwood, by the Chairman of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Mr Betts, and by my hon. Friend Ben Everitt. This settlement helps to support the most vulnerable people in our society, especially in social care. We are providing access to an additional £1 billion in funding for adult social care in the coming financial year, which includes £300 million in grant funding for both adult and children’s social care. We are also providing an additional adult social care tax flexibility of 3% to give councils the tools to make the best decisions for their residents, giving councils access to an extra £790 million. That is all on top of the £1 billion social care grant announced last year, which is being maintained in line with our manifesto commitment. We have responded to the pressures facing councils to ensure that they have the resources they need to provide the best quality care for residents across the country.

A number of Members raised the point about the varying ability to raise resources to pay for the increasing costs of social care, and it is a very valid point. It is indisputable. It is a fact that some local authorities can raise more than others, but I am afraid that those Members have completely missed a key component of this settlement, which is that we have chosen to help councils to bridge that gap through equalisation. We are taking specific action to level the playing field between different councils in different circumstances. Through this settlement, we will redistribute £390 million of social care grant, recognising this exact point that some councils can raise more than others through locally raised tax.

We make this commitment of £240 million this year, on top of the £150 million that is continuing from last year, so that funding is distributed fairly to those who need it most. Liverpool is receiving an extra £10.4 million, Manchester £9.2 million and Sheffield £6.9 million. We are determined to level up every part of the country using all the tools we have, and this is a clear, concrete example of us doing just that. Dame Diana Johnson made this very point—she talked about the fact that it is more difficult to raise funds in Hull, but if she looks at the detail of the settlement, she will see that Hull is receiving £5.2 million through this equalisation mechanism to support its delivery of services and to ensure that people in her constituency receive access to first-class care.

A number of Members also raised points about council tax. Of course it is right that individual local authorities should make decisions on council tax levels themselves.