Changes to Local Government funding in England – Westminster Hall debate

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I thank the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) and my colleagues from the Communities and Local Government Committee for their contributions this afternoon. It seems absolutely clear that there is a serious crisis in local government in England in terms of funding and the resources allocated according to the funding formulas that are in place. I cannot say that I am greatly familiar with how the funding formulas operate in England, but it seems clear that, regardless of which part of the country Members come from, there seems to be a sense that the funding formula does not work.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) made clear his concerns about the funding formula, and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) and Members from other places, both urban and rural, raised concerns about how it works for them. The Minister really ought to look more closely at the formula to see whether there is another mechanism that could be used, because there clearly is a problem.

The disproportionate level of cuts that local councils face in England is stark. We are having a debate in Scotland about local government funding, and we have been able to protect it in Scotland to a far greater extent than has been possible here. What is happening here is a choice. The Government have chosen austerity and they are passing the blame for austerity on to local government, which is completely unfair and unjust. That really should be looked at again.

The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) talked about cuts being passed on in the guise of powers. That is true and really quite stark. It is a very sleekit way for the Government to duck their responsibilities and pass on cuts. It is really unfair for them to pass on the social care precept as a tax rise for local government to carry out.

The hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) spoke movingly about vulnerable people and areas of deprivation. People are already suffering great injustices and there are great societal imbalances in how people live that are now being compounded. I very much agree with what the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) said about the Thatcher years, when councils were brought to the brink. We are coming round to that again. In parts of Scotland, particularly parts of Glasgow, we are still living with the social impact of those cuts, and that will be true for constituencies throughout the country. Many families have already lived through that. We do not want to see it again if it is in any way avoidable, because it seems completely unfair.

With some exceptions, such as the hon. Member for Gainsborough, there are relatively few Tories present. The House of Commons Library debate pack provides some evidence that Conservative MPs and councillors throughout the country have concerns about these matters, so it is a shame that that was not reflected in the balance of the debate.

I do not want to take up much more time because I know that Members will want to the Minister’s response.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): This is the first time I have attended a debate for which you have been in the Chair, Mr Davies, and we have known each other a long time. I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. I want to give her an idea of what is happening in places such as Coventry, which by the end of the decade will have lost something like 60% of its budget to cuts. Over the next three years it has to find about £28 million. That is a hefty sum in anyone’s language. She made a telling point in her opening remarks: we have to remember that the Conservatives always pick up from where they left off the last time they were in government. If people do not see that, they must be blind.

Alison Thewliss: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. The Government are making a choice. I hope that councils throughout the country will challenge them very strongly on this. The Communities and Local Government Committee hears concerns from across the country about the range of policies that are coming and the funding gaps that are emerging. We have to be extremely careful, because it will be our constituents who come back to us and say, “What’s happened to the service provision in my area?” It is this House and the Government’s austerity obsession that are causing all these problems locally. We need to challenge that wherever we can.