The Government hugely value the work of local authorities and make significant taxpayer subsidy available to ensure that the work they do is successful. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor confirmed that additional funding will be made available for local government in 2023-24, particularly with regard to adult social care, where we know there are pressures.
The Conservative party 2019 manifesto said that we would seek to
“level up…across the whole United Kingdom.”
It went on to say:
“In the 21st century, we need to get away from the idea that ‘Whitehall knows best’…Because we as Conservatives believe you can and must trust people and communities to make the decisions that are right for them.”
Does the Minister agree that now is the time for us to take action on levelling up in places such as Halesowen and Rowley Regis, where communities are crying out for the prioritisation of projects across my constituency? The time has come to stop talking about levelling up and to take action. We need action this day.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that levelling up is hugely important not just for communities in the west midlands but for those all across the country, both in areas traditionally labelled as levelling-up areas and in those with high needs and high deprivation throughout the country as a whole. He is a huge advocate for the work that is being done across the west midlands and in his constituency. I know that it will be successful both there and wherever else we can do something across the country.
Buckinghamshire Council successfully secured £170 million from the housing infrastructure fund in 2020, to enable the delivery of Aylesbury’s long-awaited and much needed link roads programme. It was met by much celebration locally, as the town has suffered traffic gridlock during rush hour for many years. With the costs of construction materials spiralling, it is essential that these roads are built as soon as possible. Will my hon. Friend work with me and the council to help us get a little bit of necessary flexibility on the precise way that the funding is deployed, to ensure that this vital new infrastructure is completed?
The Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that infrastructure is in place at the right time. My hon. Friend has worked incredibly hard in in this place in the period he has been here to make clear that the traffic challenges in Aylesbury are because of pressure from new housing, hence this grant. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden), who is responsible for this area, and I are happy discuss this issue further with him to help his constituency.
In Clwyd South, Wrexham and Denbighshire councils are enthusiastically embracing the opportunities provided by UK Government funding, including the councils’ central role in ensuring the success of the Clwyd South £13.3 million levelling-up fund bid. Can the Minister ensure that future UK Government funding always contains provision for councils to grow further their own project management skills and resources?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about capacity within local government and the opportunities this Government are making available for local councils to make decisions on how to make their area better over the long term. I know he is a huge champion of his area and I wish him every success in those applications.
The Local Government Association has calculated that councils are facing extra inflation costs of £2.5 billion this year and extra costs of £3.5 billion next year. If we look at the autumn statement, apart from social care there was no mention of any extra money whatsoever for local government. All that will come is a potential £0.6 billion if councils put up their council taxes by the 3%, aside from the social care precept. Surely £3.5 billion versus £0.6 billion means significant cuts to council services or the prospect, as the LGA has said, of some councils going bankrupt next year?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who brings a huge amount of experience from his Select Committee perspective, but the combination of what the Government have offered, which is a substantial increase in funds from the financial year 2023-24, plus a recognition that local councils can make decisions about their council tax bases, plus the usual efficiency savings that every large organisation should be making—[Interruption.] The Labour party seems to have a problem with local councils being as effective and efficient as they can, but I know most councils will respond to that challenge as they see fit.
The Local Government Association has said that,
“Council Tax has never been the solution to meeting the long-term pressures facing services, particularly high-demand services like adult social care, child protection and homelessness prevention. It also raises different amounts of money in different parts of the country unrelated to need”.
Salford is the 18th most deprived local authority in the country. Increasing council tax and the levy by 5% is the equivalent of 1.8% of spending on public services there, whereas in Surrey an increase of 5% is equivalent to 3.1% of that spending. How will Salford pay for the high-demand services it needs when raising council tax seems to be the Government’s favoured solution to local government funding needs?
One of the services the hon. Lady highlights as being under pressure is adult social care. As the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) indicated, there is additional money going into adult social care—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady shakes her head, but it is absolutely the case that there is additional money going in. While acknowledging and understanding the principle and the underlying point that she is making, I struggle with the concept that local tax bases are not important within this discussion. They obviously are and they obviously should make a contribution. It is about trying to find a balance, and part of that balance is providing a lot of additional funds for next year, as we have done through last Thursday’s announcements.
I invite the Minister to come to Bristol to sit down and talk to the council about what it has done over the years to try to ensure it can deliver services. We now face an £87.6 million shortfall over the next five years. We have done absolutely all we can in terms of efficiency savings. Will he come to Bristol to sit down with us and see what the true picture is on the ground?
I was going through Bristol’s documentation on the council website only yesterday; I am happy to talk to any local council to understand the pressures and challenges it faces and the concerns it has. By the same token, however, while local government does a hugely valuable job, one part of that valuable job has to be to ensure that it is providing the most efficient and effective services for ratepayers over the long term.
Being able to raise council tax is a very welcome measure in the autumn statement. Leicestershire County Council is the lowest-funded upper-tier authority in England. Will the Minister meet me and representatives of the council to discuss its fairer funding situation?
My hon. Friends from Leicestershire have made that case repeatedly, and as a fellow east midlands MP, I understand the concerns about the challenges that individual councils face. I have already been in a meeting with representatives from Leicestershire County Council, who made their points known, and I would be happy to talk to my hon. Friend further about this matter.
I was pleased to submit a levelling-up bid earlier this year to transform Batley town centre. The proposal would create new shopping and leisure opportunities, support local businesses, attract new investment and reduce dangerous driving and parking through modernisation and pedestrianisation. I know the Secretary of State understands the importance of this bid to Batley, and I thank him for agreeing to visit the town centre with me in the near future. Does the Minister agree that long-overdue Government support is now more vital than ever, given the severe impact of inflation and rising costs on already overstretched local authority budgets?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on making the case for that important campaign and the important changes that she wants. We can already see a successful delivery of levelling-up funds and town funds all across the country. I know that further applications are coming forward, and I hope that they are successful and can make the most of the money as quickly as possible.
I am delighted to see the Secretary of State back in his Department, where I had a very brief summer job this year. I know that he is passionate about making sure that we can get councils where we need them for our funding. As he knows, Great Grimsby secured the first town deal, and we have also had future high streets funding, but we have had some of it for two and a half years now and things are not happening quickly enough on the ground. Will he commit to coming back to Grimsby to make sure we can push the council forward to get things happening on the ground?
My hon. Friend’s constituency is an excellent example of the transformation that is happening as a result of the support that the Department is giving. Although I cannot speak for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I am sure that one of us will be very happy to come to Great Grimsby to support the work that she is doing.
The Minister and the Secretary of State will be familiar with the fact that council leaders in Aberdeen are fairly supportive of the north-east of Scotland’s green freeport bid. Yet despite the bid being launched five months ago, we have had no decision whatever from the UK Government and, indeed, no indication of when that decision will be taken. Can the Minister provide clarity on that, and if he is unable to do so, will he and the Secretary of State meet me to discuss it?
We know that freeports have the opportunity to be transformative for many areas that are ultimately successful in their bids. We know that so many places, including those in Scotland, are looking forward to taking part in UK Government-led activities such as this. The hon. Gentleman has made a strong case for the north-east of Scotland, and I wish him well. We will make announcements in due course.
Before the Chancellor’s statement, the Conservative leaders of Kent County Council and Hampshire County Council wrote to the Prime Minister warning of their likely bankruptcy. Instead of hearing the concerns of local leaders across the country, the Government passed on responsibility to them by forcing councils to raise tax. Not only is that another unfair burden on the British taxpayer, but local government experts have estimated that the Tory plans to raise council tax will bring in more than £80 per household in Surrey but only £39 per household in Manchester and Hull. That sounds dangerously like another Tory failure in the making on levelling up. Does the Minister truly understand the financial emergency facing councils today? If so, how can he justify local residents and businesses having their council tax raised while the Government allow non-doms to avoid paying between £1 billion and £3 billion-worth of tax?
The hon. Lady highlights a number of things that she obviously wants to make a point about. The reality is that billions and billions of additional taxpayer subsidy was made available within the settlement last week. We will come forward with further information in due course. Ultimately, the Labour party’s position is fundamentally that there can be no contribution from local taxpayers. That is a very interesting place to be given that there ultimately has to be a link between services and taxation. That is something that the Government recognise while still providing billions in taxpayer subsidy from the centre to improve lives and services in the long run.