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Local Authority Funding: Discussions with Secretary of State

Volume 671: debated on Tuesday 11 February 2020

10. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on the adequacy of allocations of funding for local authorities. (900732)

The financial health of local authorities remains a priority for the Government and for me personally as a former local government Minister. I am pleased to say that next year’s local government finance settlement outlines and will deliver the biggest year on year increase in local government spending power for over a decade.

For over 10 years, Enfield has been significantly underfunded, which has had a huge impact on the provision of local services. The proposed settlement goes nowhere near addressing the shortfall. Will the Minister meet me and the Enfield Borough Over 50s Forum to discuss Enfield’s needs?

I am pleased to say that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is undertaking a review of the funding formula for local government, and I am sure that Enfield Council has participated in that. There will be a formal consultation later this year, and I encourage the council to input its particular needs if those are not adequately captured by today’s formula. In the forthcoming financial year, Enfield can look forward to an almost 6% cash increase in the spending power it has available for its residents and communities.

In addition to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, has the Chief Secretary had any discussions with the representatives of Hyndburn, Burnley, Leigh, Blackpool South, Colne Valley, Durham North, Keighley, Stoke-on-Trent Central and North or Workington concerning the adequacy of the funding for the councils covering their constituencies?

In my previous role I had many conversations with councils up and down the country. Indeed, in this job I take representations from the Local Government Association, the District Councils’ Network and the Core Cities consortium, among others. The point is that this will be an evidence-based formula that looks at the various needs of all authorities up and down the country. It is being done in partnership with independent academics to help us arrive at a formula that is fair for every part of the country and every local authority.

Clearly those discussions were not very productive, were they? I can tell hon. Members that, according to the LGA, the likely outcome is 6.6, 6.6, 6.5, 6.4, 6.2, 10, 10, 9 and 4. I am referring not to Olympic ice skating marks, but to the additional millions that will be lost respectively by the councils of the hon. Members I listed. In all, 37 councils of the 50 new Tory MPs—that is 70%—are set to lose millions under the Government’s so-called fair funding formula. Did the Chief Secretary mention that to his new colleagues, or has he been too busy keeping an eye on the potential job vacancies?

The figures the hon. Gentleman refers to are pure speculation. The formula has not been concluded yet, so it is a bit difficult to talk about the conclusions in advance of that. There will be a consultation. Regardless of the type of area that any Member in this Parliament represents—rural or urban, north or south—it will be an evidence-based formula. All the various criteria that drive local government spend, whether it is rurality or deprivation, will be taken into account. All Members can have input into that process and can have confidence that the final formula will be fair and, importantly, evidence-based.

The Treasury team will know how difficult it is to get a funding formula to operate for places like the Isles of Scilly, which are remote and sparsely populated. Good work is being done to bring health and social care together under one roof. Can the Minister shed more light on how difficult areas such as this can be funded in the future?

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor met my hon. Friend and his local authority recently to discuss this issue, and I have taken representations from them in the past. My hon. Friend is right that rurality and the particular geographic challenges posed by his constituency should be taken into account in the new formula. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will do that when he looks at all the representations in the spring.

In addition to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, has my right hon. Friend had a chance to speak to the Secretary of State for Education about the pressure on school budgets from the local government pension scheme? On a visit to the excellent Hanley Castle High School in my constituency last week, I discovered that almost half its payroll is covered by the local government pension scheme and that it is experiencing a lot of budgetary pressure from that.

The local government pension scheme is fully funded, which means that all local authorities contribute on an annual basis. It is right that that is taken into account when setting annual budgets. I am pleased that the Government have outlined a three-year school settlement, which will take school funding up by £4 billion in real terms over the forthcoming spending period. Those extra resources will allow schools to deal with the pension pressure and invest in our classrooms, which is where the money needs to go.

It was extraordinary to hear the Treasury Minister talk about the biggest year-on-year increase in funding after a decade of major cuts. He knows, because he can do the maths, that that is nowhere near making any recompense. The Public Accounts Committee looked in detail at local government spending and we concluded that in simple terms, it was being squeezed massively, particularly for children’s and adult’s social services. When will he acknowledge that for many things that his Government purport to want to deliver, local government is key and that it needs sustainable and increased funding to make up for the cuts of the previous decade?

Local government deserves enormous praise for the hard work that it did in helping to restore this country’s public finances to a sustainable state. We all know why we were in that situation a decade ago, but we can now look forward with confidence. Local government is benefiting from a very significant increase in spending power this year. The hon. Lady is right to highlight the pressure on social care, which is one of the largest areas of spend, which is why the Government have just committed an extra £1 billion in social care grant to help local authorities to alleviate that pressure this year and into the future.