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Local Authorities: Long-term Funding

Volume 619: debated on Monday 16 January 2017

Ninety-seven per cent. of councils have accepted our historic offer of four-year funding certainty, and the Local Government Finance Bill will ensure that councils keep 100% of locally collected taxes by the end of this Parliament.

The Secretary of State will be particularly aware that Worcestershire is a very attractive place to live, work and visit, and a particularly attractive place to retire to, which is why we have a disproportionately large elderly population. How is the Department factoring into its long-term funding plans the additional needs of areas with a more elderly population?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. As a Worcestershire MP, I wholeheartedly agree with his opinion of our great county: it is a great place for anyone to visit, live and holiday in. I recognise that demographic pressures are affecting different areas in different ways, which is why we are undertaking a fair funding review to introduce a more up-to-date, transparent and fairer needs assessment formula—something that I know my hon. Friend will welcome.

Mr Speaker, as you will know, the Secretary of State has received a proposal from Buckinghamshire County Council to create a new unitary authority to serve the whole county. He is also meeting the district councils, which are submitting to him a proposal for two unitary authorities. Will he confirm that he will give both those proposals equal and full consideration, including by consulting local residents, as happened in Dorset? Can he assure me that unitary status will not lead to any reduction in funding for Buckinghamshire residents?

I can give my right hon. Friend the assurance she seeks. Of course, I will give careful consideration to all proposals from local authorities, such as those in Buckinghamshire, including any financial implications. We need to ensure that any reform is right for local people and can deliver better services and strong local leadership.

I should declare that I am an elected member of the council of the London Borough of Redbridge. Local authorities such as mine face a double whammy of pressures from an ageing population and a high birth rate, which lead to funding pressures on our local authority. Does the Secretary of State accept that even if local authorities like mine divert resources from other council services into adult social care and charge the maximum social care precept available, they will still face a shortfall in funding for vital services for older people? What is he going to do about that?

The measures we announced in December will help the hon. Gentleman’s local authority; they will help every local authority in the land to deliver more adult social care services. Nevertheless, as I have said, as well as more money, we need reform. Some councils need to learn from others.

A 2015 Public Accounts Committee report outlined a 37% reduction in central Government support for local authorities between 2010 and 2016. What does the Secretary of State have to say to my Bristol South constituents, who are concerned about how the £64-million cuts announced by Bristol City Council last week will affect them?

I say to the hon. Lady’s Bristol South constituents, “Don’t forget where a Labour Government gets you.” The deepest deficit of any developed country, the biggest recession in almost 100 years and the largest banking bail-out—all that has meant that this Government have had to make some difficult decisions, and every part of local government has had to contribute to that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the long-term financial stability of local government is a function of not only funding from Government but good management in local authorities? What does he think we can do to attract people with business experience to running good local government?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. This is also about leadership, which means local authorities having many businesses in their area and promoting them. They need someone with a good track record and experience from which local people would benefit. I can think of someone like that in the west midlands: Andy Street.

The Secretary of State knows full well that leaving patients in hospital when they are medically fit to be discharged, as has happened to 130 people currently at Aintree hospital, is a very expensive way of looking after people. Why is he not shouting from the rooftops for the £4.6 billion that was cut from social care to be reinvested, so that councils can address the problem now and in the long term?

Helping with adult social care is about resources, which is why I know the hon. Gentleman would have welcomed the announcement a few weeks ago of an additional £900 million over the next two years. I am sure he will agree that it is also about reform, and that he will have noticed the big difference in delayed transfers of care between one authority and another.