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Local Government Funding (Services)

Volume 526: debated on Monday 4 April 2011

1. What recent assessment he has made of the likely change in the provision of services by local authorities as a result of reductions in the level of Government funding to such authorities. (50339)

We have given councils much greater flexibility and the financial autonomy to manage their budgets. If they share back-office services, join forces to get better value for money, cut excessive chief executive pay, and root out waste and fraud, they can protect key front-line services.

I thank the Secretary of State for his response, but does it not demonstrate that he is miles away from the reality of what is happening in the streets? My local authority, which is one of the most efficient and a four-star authority that has frozen its council tax for four years, is faced with 500 job losses, massive cuts in most of its services and a £28 million loss in spending in its local economy. What is he going to do about that?

I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has many duties in this House, but perhaps he should have spoken to his council leader, Councillor Marie Rimmer, who says:

“most job losses”

will be

“achieved by not filling posts, early retirement and voluntary redundancies”,

which is hardly the position that he paints. It is also telling that Sally Yeoman, the chief executive of Halton and St Helens Voluntary and Community Action, blames the drop in funding on the ending of the working neighbourhoods fund—a fund that the Labour party had decided to end in March.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating councils that have protected front-line services through creative and innovative thinking about their budgets, such as Medway council, which has halved its funding to trade unions and given that money to fund library books instead?

I do indeed congratulate them. My hon. Friend points out to those on the Opposition Benches a way in which money can be directed towards the front line. I hope that the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) will send out requests that Labour councils similarly look towards trade unions and reducing their costs.

The Secretary of State has described his cuts as progressive, fair and protecting the most vulnerable. Last Friday, Conservative-led Birmingham city council inflicted the biggest cut in local government history of £212 million. Some 4,000 people face losing their care packages, including some of the most vulnerable, many of whom are in ill health and in the twilight of their years. Is that progressive, fair and protecting the most vulnerable?

Let us be absolutely clear: these are Labour cuts. The Labour party was planning £14 billion-worth of cuts, all of them front-loaded. At least we changed the formula to help the most vulnerable. We find ourselves in a position where we know perfectly well that the Labour party would have inflicted even greater cuts on local government.