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Local Government Finance Settlement - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:32 pm on 19th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord Porter of Spalding Lord Porter of Spalding Conservative 6:32 pm, 19th December 2017

My Lords, first, I remind noble Lords of my interests listed in the register— namely, that I am the chairman of the Local Government Association. I am also the leader of South Holland District Council, which is in Lincolnshire, so I thank the Government very much for letting us be one of the pilots. We much appreciate that.

As my noble friend might expect, I need to be critical of the fact that again adult social care was not mentioned. I cannot see the new funding in a positive light, as the £2 billion will not actually be £2 billion; it will be about £900 million this year, which will be insufficient to deal with the pressures. However, I have every faith that my noble friend and the Secretary of State will be able to persuade the Treasury that it will be in this Treasury’s best interests to find additional money. We all know that the people most affected by adult social care crises are those who vote. Also, as has been said, there has been a massive rise in the number of looked-after children. That will need to be reflected in direct funding to local councils, which will have to pick up that burden. However, I am confident that there is still time for my noble friend and the rest of the DCLG team to persuade the Treasury that that needs to be met.

I do not want to carry on being critical, so I will make some really happy noises. The fact that the changes to the new homes bonus flagged in the last few months will not be implemented will be well received by local government. Clearly, that would have been a counterproductive move and we are pleased that it is not happening. On a South Holland-specific basis, if the Government are looking for somewhere safe to trial the setting of planning fees, somebody whom I know will probably be writing a letter in support of that and offering their council as a pilot. They would not use it to stop development, which, I know, is one of the risks that the Government are concerned about. They are worried that some people might use it as a way of stopping planning permissions being granted in the first place by pushing up the fees to a prohibitive level.

All in all, I think that the Statement was a game of two halves. There was quite a lot to be glad about. The 1% council tax increase was a massive move forward—by 50%—although it is still not massive in terms of cash. In the case of South Holland, I think that it will increase my council tax by about 15p a year over and above what was already in the budget, so it will not make a fantastic difference. Given that 50% of my council tax goes to a drainage board and not to direct services offered by the council, a bit more flexibility around that would be appreciated. However, from the sector’s point of view, it is a welcome move. A move to relinquish the Treasury’s control of what we can charge locally is much appreciated but it would be a much better idea to remove the Treasury from the equation altogether. It is a local tax taken from local people for local services, and that should not require HMT to go anywhere near it.