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Local Government Funding

Volume 470: debated on Tuesday 15 January 2008

5. What representations she has received on the statistics used for the calculation of grants to local authorities. (178389)

We have received more than 300 representations on the provisional local government settlement. As we expected, many of those asked us to check the data used or made other statistical points.

The Secretary of State will know that colleagues from Southwark on a cross-party basis had a constructive meeting with the Minister for Local Government last week. One of the matters raised in that discussion, but of concern widely, was out-of-date population figures on the basis of which local government settlements are given. I know the difficulties, but would the Secretary of State be willing to give an undertaking that, if not now—that is, before the final vote is taken, before the settlement comes into force in April—then later this year, when the up-to-date figures are available, there will be a chance to review the settlement on the basis of accurate population information? We cannot give out grant on the basis of figures that are fundamentally out of date.

I appreciate the way in which the hon. Gentleman has put his case, and I know that he had a productive meeting. He will know that, in addition to the distribution on the basis of population statistics, we have another mechanism that seeks to protect councils, which is the floor damping mechanism. Southwark will benefit from that over the next three years to the tune of just over £63 million.

Local government itself wanted a three-year settlement, for the stability, certainty and predictability of its expenditure. The figures that we have used are therefore the best and latest available, and are consistent across local government. It would be wrong to disturb the stability and certainty of the three-year settlement. I therefore cannot give the hon. Gentleman the reassurance that he is looking for—that is, that we will reopen the settlement—because that would inevitably have a huge impact on the stability and certainty that local government has welcomed.

Swindon borough council was disappointed with the award that it received for its growth point grant. Will my right hon. Friend or one of her colleagues meet me to discuss the council’s disappointment and what else it can do? The council did not initially consult Swindon’s MPs, but has done so since, which has been very valuable.

Clearly my hon. Friend is, in her usual way, a champion and advocate for her constituents. She will be pleased to know that there are further moneys to be allocated. I should be delighted to ensure that my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government meets her to discuss the position in Swindon, and no doubt she will use her usual articulacy to make the case.

Will the right hon. Lady please take action to increase the weighting of the sparsity factor in the calculation of Government grants to rural areas such as Lincolnshire, where, in a very large county, the police grant is the second smallest in the whole of England, and as a result many of my constituents continually complain of under-policing?

Sparsity is one of a number of factors, and is important in reflecting the particular pressures in rural areas. Sparsity is taken into account when we draw up the formula, which is subject to consultation and is regularly reviewed and examined. Clearly it is important that the formula should take into account a wide range of needs and differences, and the truth is that different communities have different needs. That is why my Department is absolutely committed to devolution to local authorities, so that they can tailor their services to meet the kind of pressures that the hon. Gentleman has outlined.

I am grateful for the patience that my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government have shown in listening to representations on behalf of Slough, whose population has grown massively, but which is not having that change reflected, because of failures in the way that Office for National Statistics figures are calculated. Although I recognise the demands of a three-year settlement, is there any prospect at all of some resources being directed to those places that have coped with sudden, urgent growth and which are very diverse, such as Slough? Extra resources, when our—

Like my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove), my hon. Friend is a real champion. I can tell her two things. First, I have agreed to meet the leader of her local authority to look specifically at those pressures. Secondly, and more generally, hon. Members will know that there is £50 million of extra provision for looking at community cohesion. I anticipate that some of those areas will use some of those funds to look at the pressures and impacts of the rapidly changing communities that can now be found throughout Britain.

Is the Secretary of State not aware that there is not only growing concern but growing evidence that Labour-controlled authorities get much more generous grants than those authorities controlled by either the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats? Is it not about time that the formula for the granting of resources to local government became not only genuinely fairer but a lot more transparent?

What is true is that, under Labour Governments, all local authorities get better settlements than they did under Tory Governments. In fact, by the time we get to the end of this spending period—

Order. I must put it on the record that an hon. Member has left the Chamber after asking a question before we have moved on to the next question. That is a practice that I will not tolerate, and I suggest that the Whip have a word with the hon. Lady concerned.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I was about to remind the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) that it is Labour Governments who are the most generous to local authorities of whatever political persuasion. Under this Government, we will have had a 45 per cent. real-terms increase in local government spending by the end of this spending review period. None of us will forget that, in the last four years of the last Conservative Government, there was a 7 per cent. real-terms cut in spending for local government.

Order. The hon. Lady has returned, and I am pleased about that, but she should not leave the Chamber until the question on which she has asked a supplementary has finished.

Aylesbury vale is a designated growth area earmarked for substantial additional housing over the next two decades, and I had a very reasonable and constructive exchange on that subject with the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), on 4 December. Will the right hon. Lady tell the House what discussions she has had with her right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to ensure that additional resources are made available on time—that is, concurrently with the housing development—so that health provision and educational facilities are of the standard that my constituents are entitled to expect?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about ensuring that the new housing developments are part of thriving, vibrant communities that have schools and health facilities that make them the kind of places in which people want to live. There is a great deal of cross-government working going on as a result of the Green Paper to ensure that we provide exactly that kind of infrastructure, and the community infrastructure levy will help local authorities to ensure that developers and landowners make their contribution to making these communities excellent, high-quality places to live.

My own county of Leicestershire is generally a sea of prosperity surrounding an archipelago of islands of difficulty. The Conservative-controlled county council has said that it believes it has had a reasonable settlement this year. Is the Minister satisfied that, following that decent grant settlement, the extra funds for those islands of disadvantage are actually being spent within those towns and villages in Leicestershire and not on pet projects for the council’s own Conservative areas?

My hon. Friend knows that we are undertaking negotiations on the local area agreements in every local authority area. It is vital that, within those agreements, funds are targeted at the areas where we need to make the greatest progress. In addition, we have the working neighbourhoods fund, and I am absolutely determined that that will enable us to tackle worklessness in the poorest and most deprived communities, where people need extra help to get back into work.