Harrow Council Funding — [Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 18th December 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Party Chair, Co-operative Party 4:00 pm, 18th December 2018

With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, he will recognise that even councils that have signed up to the arrangement with the Government that he describes have still faced significant additional pressures from all sorts of sources, be it social care or homelessness, as I have already outlined, exacerbating the difficulties in setting sensible long-term budgets that meet needs. It would certainly be extremely welcome to hear him putting pressure on his ministerial colleagues to allocate additional funding for the London Borough of Harrow.

Despite the difficulties I have set out, the council has continued to play its part in trying to foster economic growth, supporting the regional and sub-regional objectives for business, employment and skills set out by the West London Economic Prosperity Board. The investment pot of £1.1 million from business rates retention is going into supporting businesses in accessing online services. Furthermore, Harrow Council is supporting that by investing £480,000 to try to help to develop the skills of low-paid, low-skilled and self-employed residents in the borough. Indeed, the council has been recognised for its work in this area, winning the Best Small Business Friendly Borough award. The council is also building new housing, making use of the new homes bonus, and has set out a major regeneration programme to maximise use of council-owned sites to support sustainable housing growth, as a result of which it will get some additional income from council tax.

I recognise that Harrow Council is not alone in facing challenges of the scale that I have set out. Surrey, Torbay, Lancashire and many other councils are already in serious financial problems. Commissioners were called in to Northamptonshire council after it ran out of money. Other councils are privately warning of similar difficulties soon. Many councils are having to prop up their budgets with funding from reserves, something that Harrow has not been able to do. I gently ask how many more signs the Government need before they wake up to the crisis in local government.

One area where the Minister could help immediately is financial assistance to help the council to cover the cost of subsidence arising from the sinkhole discovered under Pinner Wood School, which has cost the council some £5.2 million and has obviously exacerbated its already very difficult financial position. We urgently need fairer funding for local government. It is not good enough for the Government to preside over the managed decline of local services. I know that in Harrow and elsewhere councils are doing some great work, but on a shoestring, and the time has come for the Government to reverse the cuts and give councils, particularly my council, Harrow, the proper levels of investment they need.