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Local Authorities: Essential Services - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:33 pm on 24th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 2:33 pm, 24th January 2019

I will certainly make sure the noble Lord gets a response on those points in the letter.

The point I was making was specifically in relation to rough sleeping, which is a serious issue throughout western Europe. The only country that has seen a reduction of any significance is Finland, and we have been seeking advice from it on what it is doing on this. I will cover that in the letter, with more specifics about the funding from the centre going into helping with what is a very serious problem that affects individuals. We certainly should not forget that.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for his welcome of some of the things we have been doing on housing. I acknowledge that we have not kept him happy on all these issues, but I remain very keen to discuss these issues with the noble Lord. I know how expert he is in these areas.

I turn to education. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, spoke on this, particularly in relation to special needs. I understand his commitment to this area and the background and expertise he brings on dyslexia and in other areas. On 16 December, we committed an additional £250 million, which the noble Lord mentioned. That is extra funding on top of the £6 billion already provided for the high-needs budget this year. It is an important area and we take it seriously, and I am pleased we committed that extra money.

I turn to social care, which most noble Lords raised. I am told and can authoritatively confirm that the social care Green Paper is expected soon—noble Lords will not be surprised. After this, we will apply additional pressure to say that we really should be seeing this. It is an important area.

The noble Lord, Lord Liddle—again, very fairly—talked about the bandwidth and of other issues of importance not getting the attention they would normally have while we are dealing with these Brexit issues. I absolutely accept that; it is a point well made.

Many noble Lords—the noble Lords, Lord Kerslake and Lord Best, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and others—talked about this important area. It certainly is important. Delayed transfers of care are down, and that is part of dealing with this problem. But as we have noted, there is an ageing population. As the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said, we all have a personal interest in addressing this; we certainly have a community interest, and I welcome the wide recognition of this. When that social care Green Paper is presented to us, we will have the opportunity to go through that and to discuss this in some depth.

Meanwhile, some local authorities are doing innovative things, such as Essex County Council’s Community Agents Essex, Hampshire County Council’s telecare partnership, and the early help partnership of Lambeth Borough Council—one of the many councils that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is connected with. Many innovative things are happening.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, touched on children’s services, as did others. North Lincolnshire Council is doing innovative things in supporting care leavers to secure and sustain their tenancies and making sure that families are safe and supported. I welcome what the noble Earl said about the troubled families programme providing assistance.

Noble Lords also touched on domestic abuse, and they will be aware that there has, again, been some delay in presenting the way forward. But we are keen to progress that. It is something that the Prime Minister herself is very keen on, and I look forward to that happening.

Children’s services and social care services are key areas and have attracted extra finance, but I accept that it would be far better if we did not do this on an ad hoc basis each year but looked at it in the round and had a more developed system. I hope that that can happen once we have the social care Green Paper.

Public health services were touched on. Again, I acknowledge their importance. I note that good things are being done in Newcastle and Kirklees.

On transport and bus services, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and congratulate her on becoming chancellor of Cardiff University, which is extremely good news for all of us. I know that the noble Baroness is well deserving of that role. She talked about her role as a councillor, but she was also in the Cabinet of the National Assembly so will understand the importance of these issues and have experience from Wales. I take particularly seriously what was a very constructive contribution with some concrete ideas of what we could do. I would welcome the ability to pass those on to noble Lords and Ministers in other departments so that they can be discussed, particularly the nexus between the voluntary sector and the established sector, if I can call it that. I know that post buses have been used on occasion in this regard as well. There were some useful suggestions there.

The noble Lord, Lord Bird, focused on public libraries, as did others. I welcome what he said. There has been some innovative work in Warrington with community hubs. I have also seen that elsewhere. Lambeth brings together different community services in the same building, the Oasis Centre near Waterloo. It was a point well made, and it is certainly important. I noted what the noble Lord said about his commitment to Sheffield. Indeed, we spent some time together in Sheffield, although I hasten to add not in his nefarious malfeasance days, but much more recently when we looked at what was being done on homelessness, social services and social enterprise.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester mentioned the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service. If the right reverend Prelate is able to give some details, I can put officials in touch to see if other funding streams could help. I note that there is a co-service with the University of Worcester, which is something to look at for the “Faithful City”.

Waste services are vitally important. Car parking was not touched on. Public parks were mentioned, and as a department we put money into pocket parks, which are a great development—I saw one recently in Redcar, which was great.

I will deal with public toilets very quickly. It is an important issue, so I welcomed what the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and others said. When I got off the train at Saltaire, they were not my first thought: my first thought was to find the Hockneys in the gallery in Saltaire, which is a great place. But I noted what the noble Lord was saying about this issue. In the Autumn Budget, the Government announced 100% business rate relief for stand-alone public toilets, and we are compensating for lost income where there are privately run toilets, which the local authority is effectively subsidising. I will provide full details in the write-round.

I thank noble Lords for what was a wide-ranging and, from the Government’s point of view, useful debate on local government. It is vital to us, we have great people working there and great councillors, many of whom come to this House, so I do not need convincing about that. But I take it seriously, as do the Government. We will forward a copy of the debate to all government departments, and I will write to noble Lords on points that I have not been able to deal with in more detail.