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Local Authority Services

Volume 655: debated on Monday 4 March 2019

1. What recent assessment he has made of the effects of changes in the level of central Government funding for local authorities on the adequacy of services provided by those authorities. (909522)

The local government financial settlement confirmed that core spending power for councils is forecast to increase to £46.4 billion, a cash increase of 2.8%. This real-terms increase in resources will be key to helping local authorities to deliver local services, support vulnerable residents and build stronger communities.

Ofsted has said in its latest monitoring report that despite the good work of my council, Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, it is still deeply concerned that children risk abuse due to unbearable case loads and a real problem in recruiting staff. Does the Minister think that that might have something to do with the £180 million in funding that the council has lost since 2010, and will he say whether the proposed community fund will fully and adequately restore the appropriate level of funding?

I recognise that, over some years, Sandwell has had some specific issues in relation to its children’s services. I hope that the hon. Gentleman therefore welcomes the increase in Sandwell’s core spending power to £268.6 million. He will also know that the funding that was set out in the financial settlement underlay additional funding for social care, and children’s social care in particular, but clearly we will keep in contact with the Local Government Association and others in respect of councils’ needs.

17. On Friday night, my community saw the despicable murder of 17-year-old Jodie Chesney in Harold Hill. If the Government’s serious violence strategy is to work, we need confidence that all parts of the system are adequately resourced, including councils’ children’s services and social services. What assurances can the Secretary of State give me on that front, and what conversations has he had with the Home Office to talk about these most serious of issues? (909538)

I am sure that the whole House will want to send its condolences to the family of Jodie Chesney, my hon. Friend’s constituents, and equally, to the family of Yousef Makki, who also lost his life over the course of the weekend. My hon. Friend highlights the appalling situation with knife crime, which has claimed too many lives. I assure her that my Department is working closely with the Home Office to look at issues of prevention and, through programmes such as troubled families, is seeking to provide preventive services. In the last couple of weeks, I have provided £9.8 million for a fund supporting families against youth crime, to help workers to intervene early to prevent such senseless violence.

I have previously raised with the Secretary of State the Government’s proposal to remove deprivation as an element from the foundation funding part of the local government allocation. Is he aware of the research done by the University of Liverpool and the Institute for Fiscal Studies showing that although deprivation accounts now for only a 4% difference in spending, if we go back before austerity in 2010, in the early years before the disproportionate cuts in grants to the poorest communities, deprivation accounts for more than 10 times the amount of spending? In the light of that, will he review his decision to remove deprivation as a key element of spending allocations?

The hon. Gentleman, the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, is obviously aware that there is an ongoing consultation on the formula. He highlights a point in relation to the primary formula and the way in which deprivation plays into that. We will look closely at the evidence that is presented to us and I encourage him to take part in that consultation.

I declare my interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council. At its budget last week, the council confirmed that it will achieve a 10-year council tax freeze, and despite cuts in Government spending it has maintained all frontline services and support for the voluntary sector. Is that not an example that other councils should follow?

I warmly commend Kettering Borough Council for the work that my hon. Friend outlined, and indeed councils for the way in which they have risen to the challenges. I commend all the work of the members and officers in Kettering for being able to deliver good-quality services in an efficient way.

22. Surely local authorities that willingly step up to the plate as asylum dispersal areas deserve additional long-term central Government funding in recognition of the extra resources required to undertake that valuable work, and surely to goodness the Secretary of State would agree that the Home Office, rather than his Department, should pay for it. (909543)

I note the hon. Gentleman’s point about asylum dispersal and the costs of that. Obviously, the Home Office leads on how funds are supported in different authorities—indeed, in Scotland as well—and I will certainly pass on his points to the Home Secretary.

On funding to local communities and the Stronger Towns fund announced earlier today, can I get an idea of how much Crawley constituency will get? It has two of the most deprived wards anywhere in the south-east. I do not want to hear from the Front Bench that we are on the B list where we can bid for funding. This funding is needed now.

As my hon. Friend will know, there is a statement coming up later this afternoon, so I will save my comments for that, but it is a £1.6 billion fund, with a competitive element, and I would encourage people to bid into that.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) will be in his seat for that statement and will leap to his feet to make his point with his customary force and alacrity.

23. Nine of the 10 most deprived councils in the country have seen cuts almost three times the national average since 2010. Why is deprivation no longer to be a factor under the fair funding review? (909545)

I remind the hon. Gentleman of my response to the Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts). That issue is part of our consultation on the review of relative needs and resources, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to take part. Our view is that a lot of the measures are based on population distribution, but we will reflect on the evidence as we see it.

I thank the Secretary of State and our excellent local government Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), for the additional moneys given to East Sussex County Council for this year, but rather than additional one-off funds to top up, can we have more certainty in the future so that all local authorities can plan for the future?

I recognise the desire for long-term local government funding, and we have the local government financial settlement, which the House recently approved. We also have the spending review to come, and I will certainly be making the case for a multi-year settlement.

The European regional development fund moneys of €476 million and the European social fund moneys of €465 million have had a significant input into local government funding the length and breadth of Scotland. With the removal of this EU cash imminent, can the Secretary of State tell us precisely how much money the Scottish Government and local authorities in Scotland will get after we leave the EU?

The hon. Lady will know the guarantees in place in relation to structural funds currently provided by the EU, but clearly we want new arrangements in place through the UK shared prosperity fund. We will come forward with the details of that fund, and the spending review will set out the monetary aspects.

After nine years of this Government’s slash-and-burn approach to deprived areas, the Secretary of State has announced a new fund for our left-behind towns, but since 2010 we have seen a cut to Wigan Council’s spending power—the Government’s preferred measure—of £67 million and a cut of £45 million to Blackpool’s. As a region, the north-west has lost almost £1.5 billion but will receive just £281 million over seven years under this initiative. Does he understand why Members across the House feel disappointed and patronised by his announcement today?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not recognised the additional funding that will be going into local government this coming year. The cash increase I have outlined is a real-terms increase to local government that is focused on supporting issues such as social care. Yes, the Government recognise the hard decisions that councils have had to make, but we are now supporting councils to do the right thing for their communities and ensure the improvement we all want to see.

It is only an increase for councils because it is predicated on those same councils’ increasing their council tax to mitigate a £1.3 billion Government grant cut. The announcement that the Minister has made today means very little, given that he plans to shift the funding formula away from those very same left-behind towns in future years to favour the wealthy Tory shires. Will he now remove any uncertainty, and ensure that deprivation is factored into any future fair funding review so that it is actually able to live up to its name?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has clearly not been through the consultation, which demonstrates on various issues such as social care where deprivation is firmly relevant. We are ensuring that we provide support for councils—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman keeps saying “baseline”; he seems to have gone into some kind of trance. We are providing £650 million for social care in the settlement for the forthcoming year because we absolutely recognise local authorities’ demands and needs; it is about seeing that local government is well supported for its communities.