Local Government Funding — [Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 27th March 2019.

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Photo of Thelma Walker Thelma Walker Labour, Colne Valley 2:30 pm, 27th March 2019

I believe that devolved local governance, with local knowledge of the needs of local communities, is really important, and we have lost that.

Early intervention was cost effective in my previous career, and it transformed people’s lives. They were not left to go through the stress and trauma of reaching crisis point. It is better for the health and wellbeing of our communities to have that support in place, but Kirklees was forced to make savings of nearly £200 million over the past nine years. Over the next three years, the council has to find a minimum of £38 million in savings. That has detrimentally affected my constituents’ lives.

In particular, there are significant and growing pressures on high needs in Kirklees. The Government have acknowledged that Kirklees is the second most underfunded council in the high needs block of the dedicated schools grant.

One of my constituents has been in contact with my office for some time about their two children, who have been diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum. They have been trying to establish appropriate support for their children through education, health and care plans. It has not been straightforward. Cuts to funding mean that the local authority is struggling to give the family the necessary support.

The pressures are also visible in housing. Another of my constituents, who lives in local authority housing, has been subject to verbal abuse and harassment from their neighbours. They have applied to move, but the housing provider has not been able to facilitate relocation because it does not have suitable places to move them to. It has been able to offer only additional security measures to reassure the constituent. Local authorities and local government workers are doing what they can, but they do not have the resources to do what they need to do. Hard choices have had to be made to protect care for the most vulnerable.

I know that these stories will sound familiar to many hon. Members today. Sadly, such stories are by no means unique to my constituency. But there is an alternative; it does not have to be like this. In Finland, local government has a lot of autonomy, and there is a greater level of responsibility for policy and delivery in areas such as education, healthcare, social services, planning and infrastructure. Decision making is closer to the people and seeks to be responsible for their needs. In Finland, policy is geared towards commitments to provide housing where it is needed, support those who cannot care for themselves, and provide accessible low-cost childcare to families.

Finland has also trialled a universal basic income. Policies are focused on delivering positive outcomes for citizens on health and wellbeing, and on reducing inequality. Marking those policies as priorities is important and effective. For the second year in a row, Finland has been named as the world’s happiest country, which cannot be a coincidence. There are some real lessons to take forward from countries such as Finland, which could be used to inform the way local government operates in the UK.

Labour is investing in delivering effective and positive change for local government, our communities and the families within them. The next Labour Government will genuinely end austerity and put an end to this crisis. At the last election we pledged £8 billion for social care. We also pledged an additional £500 million a year for Sure Start and early intervention services, to reverse the cuts that have closed centres across the country and to ensure that all children have the best start in life.