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Local Government: Departmental Support

Volume 648: debated on Monday 5 November 2018

3. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department’s support for local government. (907434)

Councils will receive a real-terms increase in financial resources both this year and next. Furthermore, the Department funds the Local Government Association to provide support for local authorities to build leadership capacity, conduct peer reviews and facilitate efficiency initiatives.

I thank the Minister for that. What help is being provided specifically for Somerset County Council to cope with the escalating demands of adult social care and children’s services? Will he bear in mind that Somerset County Council desperately needs £80 million from the housing infrastructure fund in order to cope with providing much-needed future infrastructure?

My hon. Friend is tireless in pressing Somerset’s case. We listened carefully to her and others, and the Budget confirmed an additional £650 million for social care next year, and indeed an additional £500 million for the housing infrastructure fund. I am sure that the Minister for Housing will have heard her submission, but given what I have said, and the LGA’s specific support for Somerset with its children’s services, I hope she feels that we are responding to Somerset’s concerns and hers.

I do not know whether the Minister has ever heard the song “Streets of London” by Ralph McTell, but it is worth listening to just to be reminded of what the streets of every town in this country are like: how run down they are; how many rough sleepers there are; how much deterioration there is; how much graffiti there is; and how many broken pavements there are. That is what my constituents see in my town, and it is happening up and down this country because this Government have starved our country’s local government service.

The hon. Gentleman may want to talk this country down, but Conservative Members have enormous faith in towns and communities up and down this country, which was why in the Budget we backed Britain’s high streets with a £675 million fund. We did that because we believe in local communities taking control of their high streets and developing vibrant communities that we will enjoy for years to come.

What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that local authorities in rural areas can deliver public services effectively?

My hon. Friend has met me and others to discuss the cost of delivering services in rural areas, particularly in Leicestershire. His local county council has been a vocal proponent of a new fair funding formula, and I am pleased to tell him that we are engaged with his council and others to take into account those concerns, and we will shortly be issuing the latest round of consultation on those proposals.

When one of the councils serving my constituency still faces £43 million of cuts over the next four years—more than the combined total it currently spends on recycling, parks, libraries, children’s centres, roads and pavements, and community safety—does the Secretary of State agree with the Prime Minister that austerity is over, or does he share the incredulity of so many of my constituents who wonder how she could possibly be so out of touch?

This Government believe in backing local authorities to build strong communities. The hon. Lady mentioned parks and roads. Perhaps she heard in the Budget about £420 million for our councils to fix potholes this winter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently announced another round of our hugely successful pocket parks programme, and I encourage her local authority to bid as well.

In Northampton- shire, the borough councils, the district councils and the county council are all working together to set up two new unitary authorities. Is the excellent Minister able to say when he is going to consult on that? Secondly, is he able to say when he will make a decision on whether next year’s borough and district council elections need to go ahead?

May I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to all the local councillors in Northamptonshire, who are working very constructively together through a difficult situation to ensure that their residents benefit at the end of the process? I can tell him that reasonably shortly we will be issuing details about the next step of that process. As he rightly points out, as part of that the Government may have the ability to delay the elections next year, should that be requested by the authorities and make sense in the context of the new unitisation proposals.

This Government’s record on local government is clear: since 2010, the Department’s budget has fallen by at least £13 billion; and, by 2020, the revenue support grant will be cut by 80%—£8 billion—putting more pressure on to council tax, which is an unequal levy. Northamptonshire has, in effect, gone bust, with the media reporting that Surrey, East Sussex and Lancashire are next in line. Services are under pressure—cut, slashed or stopped altogether—and councils are at breaking point. The Public Accounts Committee asked Ministers to publish a definition of “financial sustainability” for councils, methodology for assessing authorities at financial risk, and projections for spending and demand in service areas, so why have they refused? This is common sense; what has the Minister got to hide?

The hon. Gentleman has a job to do, and I appreciate that—it is his job to put pressure on us—but I would have thought that this week, after all the question sessions we have had, he would have joined me in welcoming last week’s Budget, which includes £1 billion extra for local government across two years.