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Local Government Finance Settlement — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:40 pm on 9th January 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative 4:40 pm, 9th January 2014

My Lords, I want to speak briefly in the gap, which I know is getting shorter, and therefore my speech will be shorter.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, for introducing this debate again. I do not envy my noble friend on the Front Bench having to answer it. I can only be grateful that it is not me this time. I do not particularly want to comment on the way in which local government finance has been discussed. However, I want to point out two things. One is that I have sat on the Opposition Front Bench as a shadow local government Minister and complained bitterly about the distribution of the grant. I swore that the Conservative local authorities were being denied revenue and it was all going up to, for example, northern boroughs. So the type of debate is not changing. Everyone always believes that they are very much worse off. What I do not deny is that local government has borne a heavy burden over the past years in how it is having to manage its finances, and there are two particular areas on which I want to touch.

The first is that while local government has borne that burden, it has been given a much wider ability to deal with it. I am not talking about the level but the means. When I was leader of a borough, I would have been grateful to have the flexibility that is now available to deal with budgets. We could not have pooled budgets or worked with other local authorities. We could not have had joint town clerks or done half the things that local authorities can now do with other public authorities to make the budgets work better. This is a matter of which we do not want to lose track.

I have suggested that we have an annual moan that goes back a long way, and I am sure that we will continue to do so. However, let us not lose track of the fact that council leaders who have spoken here today have a far greater ability to manage budgets than was ever available in the past. I hope that my noble friend will address some of that. I know that this is not the easiest debate for a Minister but we must hang on to the fact that we have more flexibility to deal with the way in which local government manages and defines budgets in the future.