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Local Authority Spending

Volume 592: debated on Monday 2 February 2015

2. What assessment he has made of the effect of real-terms cumulative changes in local authority spending power on services in communities with the greatest needs since 2010-11. (907328)

16. What assessment he has made of the effect of real-terms cumulative changes in local authority spending power on services in communities with the greatest needs since 2010-11. (907344)

Since 2010, we have delivered fair local government finance settlements to every part of the country. All councils have balanced their budgets, and most have reduced council tax in real terms and maintained public satisfaction with services. Councils facing the highest demand for services continue to receive more funding and have higher spending than less deprived authorities.

According to the BBC, Greater Manchester councils are preparing for another cut of £250 million this year, which is in addition to the £1.2 billion taken out of their budgets since 2010. Given the Public Accounts Committee’s conclusion that the Department for Communities and Local Government had limited understanding of the impact of the cuts on services, are Ministers not out of touch?

Every part of Government has had to respond to the challenges left by the previous Administration. It should be noted that now each authority does not have to rely just on its grant; it has the ability to raise money itself. Manchester has been very successful at that, securing many millions of pounds through its business tax retention and the new homes bonus. Manchester has also been very successful in securing a multi-million-pound growth deal.

The PAC report made it clear that councils with the greatest spending needs—the most deprived authorities—receive the largest reductions. The Minister talks about the challenges facing them. He will know that the challenges facing the local authority in Chesterfield are twice those facing the local authority that the Secretary of State is responsible for.

Is it not true that the reason why the areas with the greatest deprivation are facing the biggest cuts is that Tory Governments always redistribute money from the poorest people to the richest? If the disabled, the elderly and the vulnerable in my constituency want to do something about the situation, they should not complain to this Government—they should chuck them out in May.

The most deprived authorities receive 40% more than the least deprived. The PAC and the NAO recognised that, on the whole, local authorities have responded well to the cuts and that every single authority has managed to balance its budgets. It should be noted that local authorities have significantly increased their reserves during this period. The reason why each part of Government is having to respond to these financial challenges is the economic incompetence of the previous Government. I am sure that the public out there will not want to give the Labour party the reins of power again.

For decades, my local authority in Leicestershire has been one of the lowest-funded county councils. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that in reaching a figure in the local government settlement, account will be taken of how efficient a council already is?

I have received representations from my hon. Friend’s council, and I do recognise the enormous amount of work that is going on. Given the economic circumstances, we try to show a direction of travel regarding councils with significant rural coverage, and we have increased the moneys by some £15.5 million this time.

I represent a constituency in the north of England, where we see huge variations in the spending power of local councils, but also huge variations in how councils are dealing with the situation. My own Conservative Cheshire West and Chester council has redesigned services, sharing them and making them more efficient to protect the taxpayer, whereas neighbouring councils are looking at cutting services, closing libraries and making the taxpayer pay for their mistakes. Does my hon. Friend agree?

The track record shows that Conservative-led administrations are facing up to the issues that we all face. I have seen everything that my hon. Friend’s council has done, including the excellent homeless support services that it offers. Even the most difficult and vulnerable people out there are being protected by well-thought-out responses to the economic challenges we face.

The National Audit Office says that local government has faced 37% cuts on average, and hon. Members have highlighted just how unfair those cuts are. Why is the Department refusing to publish figures that show the real-terms, year-on-year changes by local authority, as the NAO and now the Public Accounts Committee have urged? Are the Government frightened to lay bare just how grotesquely unfair their policies are to the poorest communities?

Every year we have published all our figures. We go out there and consult councils on the figures that we offer. This time we gave indicative figures for not only last year but this year, and there have been plenty of opportunities for people to scrutinise those figures. I should point out that the NAO figures do not include the better care fund or the public health grant.