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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:37 pm on 27th March 2019.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:37 pm, 27th March 2019

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mrs Main, and to follow my hon. Friend Yasmin Qureshi, who made a positive case for what the Labour council is trying to achieve in such constrained times. I congratulate my hon. Friend Thelma Walker on securing this debate at a crucial time for our local authorities. By the end of the next financial year, my constituents across York will have experienced an £189 cut per household, which has had a significant impact on families. I often say to colleagues that in York they need to look beyond the walls and travel into the communities to see the real deprivation in our city. York itself is the most inequitable city outside London, and it experiences severe deprivation.

It is important to consider deprivation when creating a so-called fair funding formula. York has the worst-funded schools in the country, and one of the worst-funded health authorities. Crime is rocketing by 13%, which is 5% above the national average, yet 60 police staff have been cut. Those cuts are having a cumulative impact on our city, and the need to fall back on the local authority is escalating. As a result we must consider what is happening with different funding formulas and that cumulative impact, not least because of the many partnerships that existed, which is where the real work is done to address issues of crime and public health. Resilience is breaking down in our cities, and we must ensure that funding works across the board.

The cuts have impacted on social care in our city, which is under particular strain because hospitals cannot discharge patients, the support is not there, and there is a knock-on impact on other services. York has a particular reputation for delayed discharge, and it is not a good one.

There are also pressures on social care. We cannot recruit the social care workforce—people cannot afford to live in our city because the housing is so expensive and the wages so low. I urge the Minister to take a more holistic view of his brief and to work cross-departmentally when looking at the funding formula, because of that impact.

I am also concerned about future dependence on business rates. We have debated those rates many a time in this House, and they have a negative impact on the retail outlets in York, as well as other businesses, because we have a false market. What has happened is much like the sub-prime market that existed ahead of the last crash. Many offshore landlords have invested in York, hiking up the prices, the values and the rentals of their properties. As a result, they are more interested in their investment in the longer term, rather than in the high street, so 50 units in the city are empty. Sadly, our Tory-Lib Dem city council just puts stickers in the windows of high street outlets, as opposed to trying to get businesses in. Increasing business rates therefore have an impact, because businesses leave and the revenue does not come to the council. There is a negative cycle. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s comments, and it is certainly something that I have discussed with Treasury Ministers at length.

The precept is also a regressive tax on social care. It is important for us to look at more progressive, fairer and more proportionate forms of taxation, as opposed to some of the measures put in place instead. Again, with issues such as the precept, areas of deprivation will clearly not generate the same levels of money and resource for social care as more affluent areas. We therefore see greater inequality yet again. Even within York we have serious inequality. In fact, between the most and least affluent areas of York is an eight-year gap in life expectancy, which demonstrates not only economic inequality but its impact on health and other social determinants of health.

We therefore need the local authority to be properly resourced. Sadly, the Tory-Lib Dem failure in our city has meant that resources have not gone into the right places to address inequality. The council has been quite profligate in how it has used limited and restrained resources without bringing real benefit to our city, so I am absolutely delighted that Labour has put a well-costed programme together.

“Getting York back on track” is our manifesto for York to move forward. It looks at how to bring investment into our city and to ensure that we build a more sustainable and long-term approach to delivering services, putting in vital resources and growing the economy by attracting businesses. We are a low-wage economy so it is vital to have investment for good-quality jobs in the future. Socially, we also want to address the very issues of my constituents’ constant need, such as investing in our city centre by putting in a family quarter, or ensuring that we have higher environmental credentials in our city, which should be something that all local authorities are mandated to have.

We want to be carbon-neutral by 2030. A pressing agenda throughout the country is to have carbon budgets, and we want water provided on our streets, so that people are not buying plastic bottles. Such investments are made for the long term of our planet as well as of cities. We are talking about funding, so I will be interested in what focus the Minister has on improving the environmental credentials of local authorities and their contribution to that agenda.

I will leave it there. I can say so much more about what Labour wants to do when we come to power in May, but the Minister already has much to respond to today.