Spending decisions are a matter for local councils, but no council should make disproportionate cuts to the voluntary sector. It is increasingly clear that well run councils are following that principle, but that a few of the worst run are targeting the voluntary sector for disproportionate cuts.
On Friday I met representatives of Westhoughton visiting service who, having lost a third of their budget, do not know where to turn to make sure that their elderly clients get the support they need. That is one of the many voluntary and community sector groups that have contacted me in desperation. I hope that the Minister does not reply by saying that Bolton council should have prepared for the cuts or should protect the voluntary sector, because it did and it has, but the Government have cut £42 million—three times more than Labour would have cut. If the council does not have the money, it cannot give it to groups. What can I say to these groups?
The hon. Lady can start by getting her figures accurate. This is the second time in a row that she has come to the House with bizarre figures. I was at a loss to understand where she got them from, but the source of her information turns out to be a magazine called the Bolton Scene. It is not a paper of record. In between obituaries for fish—“Farewell to popular fish”—it includes all sorts of misinformation about the settlement for her council. If she sources her information accurately, she will discover that the cut to Bolton’s budget is 7% and the council should not be cutting local groups disproportionately.
My right hon. Friend has made great efforts to ensure that local authorities publish their spend above £500. Will he extend that to urge local authorities to publish the amount of their spend that is given to voluntary organisations? I think that that transparency would be very worth while.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend, although there is one council that has failed to publish its spending over £500: Nottingham city council. The right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) squirmed and wriggled rather than urge the council to publish those details. I hope that she will take the opportunity today to say that it should publish them.
Well, here we have Ministers again castigating local councils for cuts affecting voluntary organisations, but the Cabinet Office is cutting grants to many volunteering organisations, Government cuts to legal aid funding will have a serious impact on Citizens Advice and the VAT rise and loss of gift aid transitional relief will cost the sector £250 million. Does the Minister not see just how hypocritical that stance is toward local authorities? When will the Government get their act together on supporting the voluntary sector?
Of course, the hon. Lady never saw a piece of spending that she did not like. The hypocrisy is to complain about the inevitable consequences of the previous Government’s overspending. As she has the opportunity, perhaps she will just nod and agree that no council—for example, a Labour council looking to her for leadership—should cut disproportionately. It is a time for leadership from the Opposition Front-Bench team. If they want to hang around like ghouls, wailing and moaning from the sidelines, they can do so, but they should take a lead and give a message to Labour councils.