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29 Jun 2010 : Column 767

In Cumbria, total public expenditure on all those services is about £6 billion. That is a lot of money by anybody's reckoning, and I genuinely believe that if there is imagination and creativity about public service reform, we can make some cuts and big savings without necessarily affecting the front-line services on which all our people depend. Today I found out from the Library that the figure in Greater Manchester is £22 billion. If we bring together health, education and policing in Greater Manchester, we will see that we are often dealing with the same families with multiple problems, each relating to those public services.

When I was policing Minister and responsible for antisocial behaviour, we brought in the family intervention projects. We were spending £250,000 on each of the families involved; multiple interventions were not really changing their behaviour. When we got one worker with sufficient clout in the system to get health, education and policing all working together, the families cost us about £30,000. We called the worker a "muscular social worker"-and I can tell Members that they had to be pretty muscular. Doing that saved money, and 80% of the families changed their behaviour sufficiently for them no longer to face eviction for antisocial behaviour. The initiative saved money, it was commonsensical and it worked.

I urge the Government not to look at Total Place as simply an administrative efficiency measure; it is actually about fundamental service redesign. The Department for Communities and Local Government will need to press every other part of the Government to get on board. We have all tried our best, but Government Departments build empires and take power back to themselves. If we simply have cuts across the board without using our intellect and imagination, we will not make the progress that we want.

The Secretary of State has said that his priorities are localism, localism and localism. What we have seen today has given the lie to that. There has been no consultation with local government about the cuts. There has been no transparency; we do not know where £500 million of cuts are going to fall. There has been no involvement of local people. The Secretary of State's promise has proved about as meaningful as the Liberal Democrat pledge on VAT. He has a long way to go.

The cuts are a bit like those of the 1980s, as they are targeted on the poorest. There is at least one other consistency. When the Secretary of State was leader of Bradford city council, he was known-perhaps not entirely affectionately-as "the beast of Bradford". Teachers, caretakers, maintenance workers, crèche and nursery staff, social workers and council officers all lost their jobs. His ambition was to cut £50 million from the council budget and turn it into a holding company that met two or three times a year when the contracts would be handed out. Under the control of the right hon. Gentleman, Bradford city council was described as an example of Thatcherism at its most red-blooded. I wonder whether he told the people of Bradford this morning what he had in store for them. Heaven knows what he has in store for us, but we Labour Members will protect the poorest and most vulnerable, who depend on our council services. We will have no return to the Thatcherite 1980s.

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6.17 pm

George Hollingbery (Meon Valley) (Con): I offer my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal), whose eloquence was wonderful to hear. I am delighted to have been in the Chamber for his maiden speech.

The motion today is full of regrets and objections. It harks back to the programmes of the previous Government and makes veiled demands for the reinstatement of spending, but the context is an unprecedented deficit of £156 billion, bequeathed to the coalition Government by the Labour party. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor and many of his Front-Bench colleagues have spent several of the past few days rehearsing the reasons why we need to make savings. They have talked about the need to rebalance the economy, restructure our finances and grow the private sector.

The position in which we find ourselves is wholly unsustainable. As many as 30% of the work force in some areas of our country work for the Government. In 2015-16, social security and tax credit bills are projected to be £222 billion-that is, £3,580 for every man, woman and child in this country. Debt interest payments alone will rise to nearly 10% of all Government spending in the same period. Can it be any surprise at all that international markets have been spooked and that until last Tuesday, our share price-in the form of the price of sterling-was falling away on international markets?

Do Labour Members really think that there could not have been a debt crisis here? I assure them that there could. If credit spreads on UK Treasury stocks had started to move out, that would have been an unmitigated disaster for all of us-every penny borrowed would have begun to cost more and more.

That is the context of the coalition Government's proposals to make savings of £6.22 billion this year, in year, of which £1.165 billion is to come from local government. The question is whether this is a fair proportion for local government to shoulder, and the simple answer must be yes. Local government represents about a quarter of all UK Government spending, and the reductions proposed are about 20% of spending, so merely in straight proportional terms, this is a fair amount for local government to shoulder.

Of course, as we must all admit, any in-year cuts are very difficult to find; particularly those of us who have been in local government will understand that. With budgets already set, it is a serious challenge to row back. However, the proposals make it clear that huge efforts have been made to protect front-line services, and they make it easier for local councils to prioritise the programmes they feel are most important to their local communities. Including guarantees for funding for schools, Sure Start and other programmes, no council will see its revenue grants cut by more than 2%, and no region by more than 1%.

Formula grant totalling £29 billion has been protected, thus directly supporting front-line services as used by our constituents. Some previously ring-fenced grants have been freed up for authorities to spend as they see fit. This reduction, from 10.6% to 7.7%, represents a welcome first step along the road to phasing out ring-fencing altogether. I recognise, at this point in my remarks, that I am now going down the technical, dry, percentage route that we were warned about a moment ago. The
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Government have committed to freezing council tax for at least one year, and will seek to do so in the following year, in co-operation with local authorities.

Looking at the motion before us, it is difficult to accept its argument that this programme

It seems to me that every effort has been made to ensure that these cuts have as little impact as possible on council tax payers and, of course, on recipients of services. More than half the savings come as reductions in revenue grants, but in total this represents two thirds of 1% of total revenue funding. Surely no one would suggest that that should be impossible for councils to find. The balance comes in reductions in capital grants, about half of which are specifically allocated.

A number of those savings will seem non-core to many authorities. In my experience, LABGI-the local authority business growth incentives scheme-is regarded by many local authorities as free pocket money. It has done very little to incentivise the building of new businesses, certainly in the area that I come from. I also believe that the housing and planning delivery grant has done little to increase the rate of building of houses and, in any event, current market conditions dictate that there is little that local authorities can do to influence completions at this stage. Even in more difficult areas, such as reductions in funding for the Department for Education and for Supporting People, the changes are targeted at non-core spending.

The motion asks us to condemn

I believe that the figure of £504 million is derived from the excellent Library note on this issue. An avid reader of standard note SN/SG/5573 will have seen this text on page 4:

It further says, on the same page:

I recommend to Labour Members the detailed explanations on pages 9 to 13.

One smaller area of direct savings that I particularly welcome is the abolition of comprehensive area assessments. Having been involved in the "Baby Brother" version applied to district councils, I can personally attest to the uselessness and extraordinarily intrusive nature of these Big Brother-style information-gathering exercises. As the portfolio holder for performance management on Winchester city council, I was responsible for the production of much of the data required, almost none of which helped us to perform better or to manage anything better.

I have two examples that are particular favourites, one of which I will share with the House. It concerns the average time taken to re-let a council house. We had a number of council dwellings that were extremely hard to let, and we worked at that imaginatively and finally began to let them reasonably productively. However, our performance got considerably worse, because it was based on an average of the number of days taken to re-let a council house. That particular statistic took a
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lot of gathering and managing, but it never once contributed to a single change in a management decision or any improvement in services. The real point about nearly all those figures is that they were never used for anything other than to tick boxes. We collected the data, we sent it in, and the box was ticked. On a similar basis, I very much welcome the commitment to abolish the Standards Board for England. Never has an organisation been so abused for political and personal rivalries as this cumbersome and bureaucratic quango. I, for one, will not mourn its passing-nor, I expect, will many other people.

Finally, I would like to address the ideas involved in the Total Place initiative. I strongly believe that innovative local council officers and deliverers of local services are already more than capable of delivering changes such as those envisaged in Total Place. In southern Hampshire, we have PUSH-the partnership for urban south Hampshire-about which I had words with the shadow Secretary of State earlier, and the Integra arrangement for waste recycling. Only last week, I had a meeting with John Bonney, Hampshire's chief fire officer. He supports the ambulance service with community responder units that can often respond much faster than ambulance services, and he has saved more lives that way than he manages to save even through fire prevention. A huge amount can be done through initiatives such as Total Place, and that requires the breaking down of silos that was referred to a few moments ago.

My problem with Total Place is that the documents that back it up are of such byzantine complexity that I cannot find my way through them. The practitioner's guide is so full of flow charts, extraordinary diagrams and management-speak that I, as somebody with an MBA from a decent school in the United States, struggled to make head or tail of it. I therefore say this to the Secretary of State: let us not lose the principle of Total Place, but please let us not follow the terrible bureaucratic nonsense that appears to have been emerging as an end part of the process.

We all regret that cuts have to be made in local government spending at this time. However, these balanced proposals make those cuts in as fair a way as possible, across services in as balanced a way as possible, and without hitting front-line services more than is necessary. I commend them to the House.

6.27 pm

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): May I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal) on a very thoughtful and witty maiden speech?

It is with no pleasure that I stand here today to talk about the impact of the coalition Government's cuts on my constituency. Like many others who have already spoken, I fully recognise the need to reduce the deficit, but the cuts that have been forced on my constituents in the past few weeks are in no way fair or well thought out; in fact, the reverse is true. The cuts to local government are patently unfair. They run the risk of damaging our fragile economic recovery and, put simply, they are too much, too soon.

My local authority, the London borough of Lewisham, has already had its budget cut by £3.1 million for this year. London Councils suggests that the capital will
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lose £355 million in the same period. Of the 15 boroughs in London to suffer the largest overall reductions in their area-based grants, 13 are Labour-controlled authorities in places such as Newham, Hackney and Haringey-proof, if anyone needed it, that these cuts will hit the poorest parts of London hardest.

In Lewisham, more than £500,000 has been slashed from the Connexions service that provides careers advice to young people, £75,000 has been taken away from projects set up to tackle teenage pregnancy, and £425,000 has been lost from business support and enterprise development services-not to mention the axing of the £135,000 grant that enabled the council to provide free swimming for children and pensioners. These are cuts forced on Lewisham's Labour council by the Tory-Lib Dem Government.

These cuts do not make sense. Take the £425,000 of cuts to LABGI. Under the previous Government, the local authority business growth incentives scheme did exactly what it said on the tin-it provided money to reward growth in the economy. In Lewisham, this money was vital. I know that my experience of how it was used is very different from that of the hon. Member for Meon Valley (George Hollingbery), but I found that in Lewisham it made a real difference.

Despite being one of the most populous inner London boroughs, Lewisham has the third smallest business base in the capital. Roughly 70% of Lewisham residents who work leave the borough every day to do so, and more than a third of the work force are employed in the public sector, the highest proportion in London.

Last week the Chancellor spoke of an emergent private sector, with new jobs and companies springing up to replace what is lost in the public sector. He announced incentives for companies to set up outside London, and today we have heard more about the regional development fund. However, what about the parts of this capital city that need a bit of extra help? What about the parts of London that will be hit hardest by job losses in public services?

In Lambeth, Southwark, Lewisham and Croydon, 185,000 people work in the public sector, 30,000 more than the public sector work force of Tyne and Wear. In an era of public service retrenchment, where will the new jobs come from? LABGI could have provided some stimulus, and my fear for Lewisham is that the private sector will not magically emerge to fill the jobs gap left by what will be a decimated public service.

Let us be clear: the cuts in local government will cost jobs. The first swing of the axe has already meant job losses at Lewisham council, but the impact of the cuts to local government will stretch well beyond the town hall. Many private companies depend on public sector contracts, and as those dry up, so too will the jobs. Some 35% of Lewisham council's money is spent in the private sector. As the cuts start to bite, the amount of money spent with private companies will fall.

What worries me most about the package of cuts, though, is what it says about the approach that the coalition will take to local government over its whole term of office. The Secretary of State has allowed local government to shoulder nearly 20% of all the cuts
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announced in May. In October, of course, we have the spending review to look forward to. Will he allow the same thing to happen then?

The Chancellor has already indicated that virtually all Departments will be expected to make 25% cuts over the next four years. If that is passed directly on to local government, the consequences will be stark. Yes, savings have to be made and parts of the public sector have to work more closely together, but please let us listen to what councils up and down the country are telling us. Let us recognise that some budgets, especially in inner-city authorities, already face massive cost pressures-adult social care, environmental services and child protection to name but three.

Ensuring that the streets are swept regularly and that the bins and recycling are collected on time is the least that the public expect from their council. Ensuring that children can grow up in a safe and secure environment should never be put at risk because of money, and providing dignity for our older citizens is the least that 21st-century Britain should expect, but in the light of 25% cuts those things cannot be taken for granted.

Adult social care is probably one of the biggest challenges facing local authorities. Excluding money spent on schools, nearly £1 in every £3 of council money is spent on it, the vast bulk of which is spent on the elderly. In the next 10 years, the number of people living beyond 85 is expected to increase by 25% in London. In the home counties, it is expected to increase by 100% in the same period. How we finance care packages for the elderly has to be addressed, not by scaremongering about death taxes and the like but by having a grown-up, sensible debate about the options.

My nan recently passed away after three years in a nursing home. She sold her house to pay for her care, using her modest savings as well. My parents did not begrudge the use of her money to pay for her care, nor did I. She was looked after in the way that I would have wanted at the end of her life, and that was all that was important. What I do begrudge is the fact that the system is not fair. My parents did not play the system to shift the cost of her care on to the state, but others do. It is local councils up and down the country that, year in and year out, have to deal with the implications of the unfair system that is already straining under the escalating costs associated with demographic change.

As others have said, we must not consider local government in isolation from other public services. Under the previous Government, Total Place explored how to deliver better public services for less. However, as was said earlier, it was not about slicing great big chunks out of existing budgets but rather about doing things differently. The Government's Back Benchers constantly bray about the Labour Government and what Labour would have done to reduce the deficit had it got back in. I accept that Total Place would not have provided immediate answers, but I believe that in the longer term, we can transform our public services by working more closely together across organisational boundaries rather than by directing money off into an ever-increasing number of silos.

Finally, I ask the Minister how he would go about explaining to front-line social care staff that 30% will lose their jobs because the private sector has shrunk nationally-by much less than that, it has to be said. The state should shrink, but why should it shoulder such a high proportion of the burden? The new Tory-Liberal
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Government are going beyond Thatcherism in their determination to scale back the state. They claim to be doing it in the name of cutting the deficit and building a big society. Call me cynical, but it seems to me that it has much more to do with ideology than anything else.

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