Government Funding: Local Authorities

Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – in the House of Commons am ar 22 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

In answer to the hon. Lady’s question, we make continuous assessment with regard to the adequacy of funding. In this financial year we have made £64.7 billion available to local government in England, an above-inflation increase for local authorities as their real-terms increase in core spending power is now up to £4.5 billion or 7.5% in cash terms. That includes the additional measures for local authorities, worth £600 million, that we announced on 25 January, having listened to the views of local government, to her views when she engaged in the consultation and to the views of hon. and right hon. Friends across Shropshire.

Photo of Helen Morgan Helen Morgan Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Levelling up, Housing and Communities), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Local Government)

I thank the Minister for his answer, but we have seen Shropshire Council make £50 million of cuts this year, and we are told that there will be £60 million of cuts next year to avoid a section 144 notice. Local residents are particularly concerned about the potential closure of recycling centres and a likely increase in fly-tipping across our beautiful countryside. Does the Minister agree that rural councils are in danger of delivering nothing more than statutory services if things continue? Will he consider adjusting the way that funding is allocated so that rural councils are given an amount that reflects the cost of delivering services in their area?

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

The hon. Lady is right to point to the need to review the formula, which is a commitment for the next Parliament. She will probably be aware—I hope she is—of the £8.9 million extra that Shropshire Council received this year through the rural services delivery grant in order to deliver those sorts of services. Do I think rural councils have to reduce to statutory services alone? No. All my engagement with the sector points to a vibrancy and a commitment to innovation, shaping places and improving the lives of people up and down the country, including in Shropshire.

Photo of Andrea Jenkyns Andrea Jenkyns Ceidwadwyr, Morley and Outwood

Trevor from the Drighlington memory café—Trevor has been ably supported by our fantastic Morley town mayor—Nicola from the Morley grief group, Dan from WF3 Kindness and Christine from the veterans luncheon club are just some of the amazing volunteers and community groups in my area who give up their time to help local people. Will the Minister join me in thanking and paying tribute to the unsung heroes in our communities across the country?

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We should never lose an opportunity to trumpet our thanks to people like Trevor, Christine and all our volunteers up and down the country who make such a difference to people’s lives. They work alongside councils and other bodies to make life better and happier, and to make places more pleasant to live. I thank them unreservedly.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Funding cuts are adding to the clear pressures on local government around the country. One such example is developers who come armed with substantial funds and resources to contest their planning applications. Locally, Warwick District Council had an application just last week that the planning committee was essentially advised to allow because of a fear of not having the financial resources to contest it. I have written to the Secretary of State about this issue. Should we be extremely concerned about it nationally?

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Each planning authority has a quasi-judicial role to adjudge planning applications against national and local plans, and I have every confidence that planning committees up and down the country do that. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to refer to a 7.5% cash-terms increase for local government in this financial year as a cut, that is a very eccentric definition even for a Labour Member.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Ceidwadwyr, Witham

Ministers are aware that Maldon District Council was allocated £5 million of levelling-up funding. My right hon. Friend Sir John Whittingdale, the council and I have been informed that the funding must be spent on cultural projects, despite our having a local plan that will see the closure of St Peter’s Hospital. We want the money to be spent on levelling up health and wellbeing, which is one of the five principles of levelling up. Will Ministers urgently review all our representations so that we can work at pace to sort out this terrible issue and level up our health situation?

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point, and I know St Peter’s Hospital pretty well from a previous life. The Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend Jacob Young, has signalled to me that he is aware of the issue, has sympathy with my right hon. Friend and will be happy to meet her in pretty quick time to discuss further details.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Working people are paying the price of the cost of living crisis, but is it not the truth that the Liz Truss mini-Budget did not occur in a vacuum? There is a pattern of the Tories shifting the tax burden on to hard-pressed households. Council tax bills have rocketed by almost £500 since the Tories came to power, on top of which Conservative councils charge residents almost £280 more than their Labour counterparts. As voters go to the polls on 2 May, does the Minister hope that they will somehow forget the council tax bombshell facing them? Or does he expect that more candidates will follow the lead of the west midlands campaign and ditch the toxic Tory brand completely?

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

The hon. Gentleman wins first prize in the brass neck of the afternoon competition; I remind him gently and politely about the situation in Birmingham. It is well known by residents up and down the land that Conservative-led councils are more efficient, deliver greater improvement at pace and are far more focused on delivering for their residents. Colleagues and I will take that proud record to the voters during this local election campaign, and I have every confidence we will triumph in it.