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Local Authority Funding

Volume 524: debated on Monday 28 February 2011

14. What recent assessment he has made of the likely change in the provision of services by local authorities as a result of reductions in levels of Government funding for local authorities. (42498)

We have given councils much greater financial freedom and flexibility to manage the more than £7 billion of funding from 2011-12 which is moving into formula grant, is being un-ring-fenced or is new funding for the settlement. This will enable them better to meet local communities’ needs. If councils share back-office services, join forces to get better value from their buying power, cut out excessive chief executive pay, and root out overspending and waste, they can protect key front-line services.

I am not sure that that answer related to my question at all. Within weeks of this Government coming to power last May, Lewisham council had half a million pounds slashed from its Connexions budget and half a million pounds cut from employment and enterprise support schemes, and, as we all know, time was called on the future jobs fund. With youth unemployment nearing 1 million, what action will the Secretary of State take to ensure that local authorities can do more, not less, to help young people into work?

I have checked the question and I think that what I said answers it exactly. I must say to the hon. Lady that her local council has £58 million available to it in non-school reserves and that youth unemployment continued to rise under Labour in the good times and the bad. We have given the flexibilities I described and it is about time that ladies and gentlemen on the Benches opposite woke up and accepted their responsibility for the financial state of the nation—the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) laughs at the idea because it is someone else’s money. Labour councils are cutting back more than Conservative councils and the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) has done nothing about it.

Northamptonshire county council, East Northamptonshire district council and Wellingborough borough council have all frozen their council tax this year and they are all Conservative controlled. Is it not the case that Conservative councils cost you less and deliver more?

What a wonderful slogan. I wonder who first thought of it. [Interruption.] It is indeed mine and what it says has proved to be the case. There is a really strange thing about this whole process. If we match up councils authority by authority, we see that Liberal Democrat and Conservative authorities are protecting the front line, but under Labour authorities the front line is the first one to go, the voluntary sector is the first one to go and the most swingeing cuts are the first thing to happen. It is time that the right hon. Member for Don Valley accepted some responsibility for that.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the community groups, Save Levenshulme Baths and Friends of Levenshulme, on the success of their campaign, which was announced officially in Manchester town hall this morning by Councillors Amesbury and Reid? Levenshulme baths are to be rebuilt and are to reopen in two years and, in the meantime, the existing baths will stay open. Is this not a victory for community action, unlike the whingeing from the Liberal Democrats on Manchester city council?

When a council has made a significant cut to a front-line service, such as by withdrawing support from 20 libraries, would it be possible to require that council to publish on its website the measures that it has taken to try to protect the service? Such measures could include working with other local authorities, as the Secretary of State has suggested.

The great thing about transparency is that a number of citizens are looking at their local council and asking it questions if it is closing down swimming baths or libraries while spending on things that do not relate to front-line services. I think that transparency is a very good thing. If people are closing down valuable community assets, they should make a very strong case for doing so.