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Local Government Finance Settlement - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 19th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 6:15 pm, 19th December 2017

The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is always straining at the leash. I look forward to his contribution later.

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Shipley, for their contributions and send all our best wishes to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, who is unwell. We wish her a speedy recovery.

First, I turn to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. I join him in thanking local government officials who work incredibly hard on behalf of their local councils and, indeed, of us all. I will try to clear up a point he made initially about consultation. The consultation on this local government settlement is open until 16 January. The consultation on the fair funding review is open until 12 March at 11.45 am for some reason. I do not know why it is 11.45 am—but just before noon. It will be looking at relative needs, issues such as deprivation and so on. I can confirm that the intention is to ensure—as I suppose the name suggests—that we have a system that is fair across the board and one that achieves some balance.

I appreciate that they do not totally coincide, but council tax payers often also pay income and other forms of tax, so it is a mistake to see the two as totally separate classes of people—council tax payers on the one hand and those who make contributions to central taxation on the other. They are often the same people and we have to appreciate that these services cost all of us money. This is not to say that there are not important issues to be dealt with and a balance to be struck.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, referred to five new business rate retention pilots. It is actually 10. Through him, I thank Lewisham for being part of this. Indeed, all London boroughs are contributing. We had an incredible response although not, I regret, from Newcastle or any authorities in that area, but we had 240 local authorities wishing to be taken into consideration. The 10 pilots will include local authorities from the relevant areas; in all, I think that 89 local authorities are participating in these pilots. So obviously we will see how those pilots proceed and will hope to gain something from them. Both noble Lords asked about the ability to carry the pilots forward. The intention is to look at the issue in the round.

There was a question about adult social care. The review will report no later than the summer of 2018. I appreciate, and sometimes share, the anxiety to move more quickly than we do, but it is important to get these things right rather than to go quickly. I remind noble Lords—although I am sure they do not need reminding—that this year we have had a general election. That has taken some time out of the process for understandable reasons, as I am sure noble Lords will agree.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, referred to a trial of full cost recovery of planning fees. He has previously raised that issue, and I undertook to have a look at what I thought was an interesting and valuable idea. I assure him that we are looking at that possibility.

In the meantime, we have put an extra £2 billion into adult social care and £200 million into children’s social care, and the Department for Education is looking at that. As I said, the review is due to report by the summer of 2018.

I should repeat—I believe I am repeating it, unless I missed a paragraph in the Statement—that the referendum limit is now going up to just under 3%, so an increase of just under 3% is possible without a referendum. I remind noble Lords that a referendum on this has been held on only one occasion—I think I am right in saying that; I will write if I am wrong—and that was unsuccessful. That perhaps indicates that there is not such an appetite out there as is supposed for council tax increases.

Both noble Lords referred to some of the issues that they welcome. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, certainly referred to the rural services grant, the new homes bonus, the negative RSG and the pilots, and I very much welcome that. I confirm that we wish the model to be fair. I think that the noble Lord referred to the new burden being placed on local authorities in relation to homelessness, which he said we are not funding. In fact, we are funding it under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. That legislation had a broad welcome in this House and was steered through this House by the noble Lord, Lord Best, with government support. We are committed to £71.2 million to help fund the new burden.

If I have not covered all the points raised by the noble Lords, I hope that they will be content if I pick up anything that I have missed in writing.