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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:17 pm on 18th December 2018.

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Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 4:17 pm, 18th December 2018

With all the will in the world, there is little I can do to help on that particular matter. As the local government Minister, I have no authority or control over the schools budget. The issue he raises relates specifically to a school.

I know that council officials have been in conversation with officials from the Department for Education, but I am obviously not privy to those conversations. I am of course happy to meet him and his deputation, but I think he may be better directing that conversation toward the Department for Education. I know that close to £10 million has been invested in maintained and voluntary-aided schools in Harrow over the last few years, and that the Department for Education is refurbishing or rebuilding about 10 different schools in Harrow through the priority schools rebuilding programme, although not the particular school that he mentions.

Beyond schools, £434,000 has been committed to support Harrow in caring for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, further helping to strengthen community cohesion. However, strong communities need to be connected. The roads that our constituents travel on daily form a key part of their lives, which is why at the Budget the Chancellor announced that an extra £420 million will be made available for local authorities such as Harrow to fix potholes and carry out other road repairs, ensuring safer and better roads across our communities.

Strong communities also need well-built, affordable homes, which is why, through the Budget, the Government are supporting local authorities such as Harrow to get much-needed homes built, including through the widely welcomed lifting of the housing revenue account borrowing cap. I am pleased that we were able to maintain the new homes bonus baseline for the forthcoming year. Harrow will receive more than £4 million in new homes bonus funding in the forthcoming financial year. I am also pleased that Harrow is in conversations with the Department to receive a housing infrastructure fund grant worth almost £10 million to help with the delivery of more than 600 homes at the Grange Farm site.

Strong communities also need vibrant high streets to bring us together and ensure our towns have a beating heart. The Budget provided a boost for our high streets and a new future high streets fund. I strongly urge the local authority, in conjunction with its MPs, to bid for that fund and see what it can do to drive growth along the high streets in its community.

The hon. Member for Harrow West was right to highlight the funding formula. The current funding formula needs to be updated and replaced with a robust, straightforward approach that involves a strong link between local circumstances and the way that we allocate resources. The latest round of that consultation was issued alongside the provisional settlement last week. I know that Harrow Council has contributed to our consultations in the past, and I will be delighted to hear from it again on the particular pressures that it feels it suffers from and that should be captured within a new formula. I am sure that it will be happy to see that some things it talked about in its previous submission are covered, such as the rapidly changing population dynamics that councils such as Harrow experience on the ground. Those are absolutely things that the new formula should accurately capture, to make sure that it is sustainable not only for this year but for years into the future.

I thank the hon. Member for Harrow West for calling the debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East for contributing. It is my privilege to have this job and to champion local government here in Westminster. Whether it is driving economic growth, caring for the most vulnerable in our society or building those strong, cohesive communities that we cherish, local authorities in London and across the country do an amazing job.