Skip to main content

Service Provision

Volume 530: debated on Monday 20 June 2011

4. What recent assessment he has made of the effects of reductions in central Government funding for local authorities on levels of local authority service provision. (60276)

13. What recent assessment he has made of the effects of reductions in central Government funding for local authorities on levels of charges for local authority services. (60286)

I can tell the House that I have made a new assessment of the consequences for local authorities of paying down the deficit. Currently, the average reduction in spending power for councils this year is 4.4%. However, if VAT were reduced, as per a recent suggestion, the £13 billion a year needed to pay for it would require the average cut in council spending to be 29.1%. In my view, that would be to go too far and too fast.

That is all very interesting, but from next month, nine Sure Start centres in Hammersmith and Fulham will lose more than 90% of their funding, and therefore will close. Parents at one of them—Cathnor Park—have got a judicial review going, but they are having to expedite it, because the council is going ahead with 50 redundancies and closing services, despite the fact that the courts have not yet considered these matters. Will the Minister at least go as far as advising that rogue council not to proceed with those closures until the courts and the parents have had their fair say?

That is a superb council, and it certainly does not need any advice from me. In fact, I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman has not taken the opportunity to congratulate his council on saving every library in the borough, by merging the service with neighbouring boroughs, and on saving £1 million. When he was leader of the council, he doubled the council tax and his Labour administration was booted out at the election. The current, Conservative administration was returned with a healthy majority at the last council election.

As a result of the Government’s decision to impose huge, front-loaded cuts on local authorities, many councils are increasing charges for social care, hitting the elderly and the vulnerable. Will the Minister join me in condemning Tory councils such as North Tyneside council, which has increased its home care charges by more than 50%, from £99 to a maximum of £150 a week?

We still have not had an answer—perhaps we will shortly—to the question of how the extra black hole that has opened up will be funded, and whether that will come from local government, but I will answer the hon. Lady’s question. Three years ago, one of the predecessors of the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) as Minister for local government, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), complained that only one in five councils was using charging to its full potential. Indeed, the last Government issued statutory guidance to force councils to charge more for parking, for example. Council charging doubled under Labour. Unlike the last Government, we will not force councils to increase their charging.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is great cost variation in like-for-like authority provision? Therefore, it is inappropriate to judge the quality of services by the amount of other people’s money—that is, taxpayers’ money—spent on them.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. His record in leading Wandsworth, which was transformed under his leadership—I am pleased to say that that transformation has continued under the leadership of Sir Edward Lister, whom I am sure the House will congratulate on his knighthood—shows what can be done when there is a Conservative council that takes the economies seriously.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, now that the Government have introduced greater transparency in relation to any amounts over £500 that local authorities spend, our constituents will be far better informed about the politics involved in the reduced budgets for local authorities?

My hon. Friend is another distinguished former leader of a local authority, and he is absolutely right. We still have not heard whether those on the Opposition Front Bench think that it is a good idea for councils to have full transparency. I think that Nottingham city council is still holding out, but perhaps we shall be enlightened on that matter soon.

Today’s report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission demonstrates that Britain’s pensioners are not receiving the care that they deserve. In Birmingham, the coalition council’s cutting of care to 4,100 of the most vulnerable has been branded unlawful by the High Court. Having imposed the biggest cuts in local government history, does the Secretary of State take any responsibility? Will he intervene in this matter, or does he share the view of the Prime Minister that the actions of Birmingham city council were “excellent”?

The problem with Birmingham is that it has a legacy of mismanagement and waste from the days of Labour control, which lasted quite a long time. If the hon. Gentleman is interested in the economies, as I am, will he tell us his position and that of the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint)? He is the Rasputin of the Labour party, the power behind the throne of Edward Miliband. I have to warn the Leader of the Opposition, however, that the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) is an acolyte of the shadow Chancellor. In Wimbledon fortnight, it would perhaps be appropriate to say that he is one of Balls’ boys. Is it the shadow Secretary of State’s policy to add an extra £13 billion of cuts? Yes or no? And would that come from borrowing, or would it yet again come from local government? Will she tell us what her policy is? In the week that—

Order. I am grateful to the Minister, but he must now resume his seat. In the name of utilising our time properly—I use the word “properly” advisedly—we must focus questions and answers on the policies of the Government.