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It is time that central Government stopped smothering local councils and provided them with the level of authority they need to get on with their role of serving and responding to the residents who elect them.

I believe that Labour Members are overstating the effect of the changes that local government is being asked to make. We should remember that this is an emergency Budget in which local government is being asked to contribute £1.166 billion-worth of savings to the £6.2 billion of cross-government savings for 2010-11.

Toby Perkins rose-

Mark Pawsey: I am running out of time, so I will proceed, if I may.

Removing restrictions on how local authorities spend their money is a vital part of allowing them to deliver efficiencies and focus their budgets on front-line services.
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I refer again to the statement released by the Local Government Association, which understands the need for the plans that the Government are introducing.

In some areas, certain groups have had massively more than their fair share of funding, so it is only right that, during such times as these, they should reduce the burden. Let me cite the example of the £30 million that will be saved by ceasing the Gypsy and Traveller sites grant. Here is a relatively small community that has benefited hugely and, in my view, disproportionately from public expenditure and is a matter of great concern to the settled community in places such as Bulkington in my constituency. By way of showing that further savings can be made, I refer to my home Rugby borough council; by not replacing its chief executive, it is enabling savings of more than £100,000 a year. Another example is Warwickshire county council, which is estimated to have made savings of £19 million in value-for-money savings in 2008-09. So there are early signs that the councils themselves recognise the need for radical reform, which needs to begin immediately, and they are tackling the challenges posed by the new Government.

In addition to seeking savings in expenditure, the Government are taking steps to minimise the effect of council tax on individuals and businesses, and are providing support for hard-working families through a council tax freeze. They have demonstrated immediate support for front-line services by protecting £29 billion of formula grant. Unlike the Labour party, the coalition has listened to advice from those affected by poor over-regulation.

In conclusion, I believe the proposals on local government finance are reasoned and proportionate, and appropriate in difficult economic times, and I shall support the amendment.

7.30 pm

Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): May I welcome you to your new position, Madam Deputy Speaker? I know that you will watch over our proceedings carefully but firmly. I also want to congratulate the hon. Members for Dudley South (Chris Kelly) and for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal) on their maiden speeches. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West, who is no longer in the Chamber, said we should think of him as a good and decent person, and I have no doubt that he is, but he is going to have his compassion-and, dare I say, his sense of social justice-tested by the proposals we are discussing today and those to come in the weeks and months ahead.

I also recommend that the hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) look back at his speech today, because I think he has highlighted an important difficulty. Although we all want to decentralise, it can be tempting to suggest that we should take control when we think things are not being done quite right at the local level. He gave the example of the high salaries paid to some staff under the Tory-Liberal Democrat council at Brighton and Hove. That might point to another suggestion for the Secretary of State: that he should have some jurisdiction over local government salaries, as well as knowing about every budget over £500 that is spent in local government.

Mr Kevan Jones: Is it not the case that in my right hon. Friend's own authority in Doncaster the Government have appointed a chief executive on what might possibly be considered a very high salary?

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Caroline Flint: Yes, they probably have done that, but I have to say that I am in full agreement with what my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State had decided in relation to Doncaster, as it is important to get our services running properly, and the current Secretary of State has followed through that decision, so I do not think there is any disagreement between the two Front Benches on this. The proof of the decision, however, will be in what happens, and whether the salary paid to the chief executive is justified by our getting some results-sooner rather than later, hopefully.

The hon. Member for Rugby and others have said that Labour Members want to refight the battles of the 1980s. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I do not want to do that, but neither do we want a return in our communities of the devastation that the '80s caused. Doncaster and other parts of south Yorkshire, as well as other areas of the country and of Wales and Scotland, have been on a journey over the last 13 years. There is a long way still to go, but progress has been made. Public investment went into detoxifying the coal pit areas in order to make them fit for other uses-to regenerate for leisure but also for jobs. That required a willingness to make sure that that land was not left barren and unusable by local communities. In '97, some primary schools had toilets that were outside and in a dilapidated state. We not only fixed the roof on many of our schools, but we brought the loos indoors so that the kids could use them appropriately and properly.

We have had to deal with a lot of work like that. As has been mentioned, we inherited housing stock that was by no means of a decent standard. We had to make some tough choices by spending money on improving that stock, while realising that that might prevent us from building more homes. Before the recession hit we were, however, up there, reaching our target of 240,000 newbuilds each year. Unfortunately, the recession got in the way, but we were on that journey, making progress.

Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): How many council houses did the previous Government build in the last 13 years?

Caroline Flint: Not enough, actually, and for the reasons I outlined. First, we inherited a situation in which councils where people had sought the right to buy were not getting money back from that in capital receipts. Under the right to buy, the better homes were, of course, sold off earlier, which meant that the housing stock that was left was very poor. We addressed how we might improve the social housing sector by looking at not only council housing but housing associations.

I must say that we also took some tough decisions with our own Labour authorities about how they should improve their approach to social housing across the piece. That included making sure that tenants in both housing association stock and council housing had more of a say. We wanted to get rid of the idea, which tarred the Labour party, that every council tenant had to have their front door painted the same because it was a council home. We brought innovation and reform into the sector, and we can be justly proud of that.

However much the Con-Dem Government pretend otherwise, it is clear that the cuts in local government funding will hit hardest not Tory and Liberal Democrat Members, or vast numbers in their constituencies-although I recognise that there are areas of deprivation in every constituency-but those communities and families who
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are vulnerable and need support, and which Labour Members disproportionately represent. Doncaster council has already had more than £4.5 million in funding cuts, and we have more to come: 20% of Doncaster funding-almost £80 million-is vulnerable.

As Labour Members have said, that money is linked to deprivation and need. Members on the Government Benches took issue with Opposition Members; they suggested, "You've had all the money coming your way. It's not fair that you've had all that money for your constituencies' families and communities." I do not take any joy in the levels of inequality in my constituency. I came into politics to make sure that people had a chance to have a better life and to address social, economic and health inequalities. In 13 years, we had improvements in our schools, improvements in health, improvements in housing and improvements in skills and jobs. The danger is that the journey stops here today because of the Con-Dem Government and what they will do, because they will stop that progress in its tracks.

In Doncaster, £800,000 will be cut from careers advice for young people, which helps young people to look for apprenticeships or full-time work. There will also be a cut of £150,000 in funding for activities for young people, including for disabled children and young people. Schemes such as the local enterprise growth initiative and the working neighbourhoods fund, which encourage investment, support local businesses, help to create jobs and boost incomes, and which in the long run save money, all now face an uncertain future.

I attended the Thorne carers forum just a couple of weeks ago. It was a day to get carers to come in, have a bit of relaxation, meet some of the different agencies that provide support and to enjoy themselves-to take some time out from their daily activity, which is filled with love but also with difficulties. I wonder what they are thinking about what will happen, because they will probably not get support for the core funding for that event, as it is discretionary, but it means a huge amount to those people, giving them a bit of respite in their daily lives.

At the weekend, I spoke to Maureen Tennyson at the Edlington gala. She is a key activist in Neighbourhood Watch and in tackling antisocial behaviour in our neighbourhood. One problem we have had is with private landlords who buy up cheap properties and then misuse that responsibility by either leaving them empty, letting them become derelict or not taking control of their tenants. There is concern about the selective licensing scheme we are getting going; people have worries in respect of the work being done to get that under way and to make some of these landlords get a licence or not be allowed to let. That will have a huge impact on neighbourhoods where in one street there might be a mixture of private ownership, private rented and council property alongside each other. This is one of the biggest blights. The people who make the money do not live in those communities, and if there is any action to cut back in this regard, the Government are saying a really big "We don't want to help you" to people in Edlington and elsewhere.

Sajid Javid: We are all in this House to help vulnerable people. Does the right hon. Lady not accept that in 13 years in power her Government increased inequality
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between the richest and poorest in our society and reduced social mobility? Does she not realise that the best way to help the very people she is talking about is to help them to find jobs and to create opportunities, not make them live off her handouts?

Caroline Flint: There is a case for arguing that the rich got richer, but at the same time we took thousands of children out of child poverty. I will tell the hon. Gentleman something else: cancelling the extension of free school meals to low-income families has prevented 50,000 more children from being taken out of poverty, so I will not take any lectures on fairness and tackling inequality. The Government could have got some extra money by doing what we suggested-by taking more money off the bankers, out of their bonuses-but they fell short on that. There are plenty of other areas that could be looked at, such as Government support for private education, in order to save some money for our schools. Some £100 million comes from Government to support private education in different forms. Perhaps we could look at making a cut there.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Caroline Flint: If I can make a bit of progress, I might come back to the hon. Gentleman; I have only two minutes left.

The cost to society will be huge if we take short-term decisions that fundamentally disrupt some of the progress that has been made in different communities. The point has already been made strongly about Total Place programmes: it is not just about people putting money into a pot; it involves a difficult journey, getting different organisations to put their separate cultures to one side and come together for the community good. That is not easy, but we have made that progress by bringing health closer to local authorities. I am very glad that we now have a jointly appointed public health director, and that we see joint commissioning happening. My worry is that if local authorities and local government retreat, others will retreat as well. They will go into a bunker silo mentality. It happens at Government level, but it also happens at local level, and what we will see is a retraction.

As my colleagues have said, it is one thing for hospitals to make sure they have policies that mean that older people leave hospital more quickly. That is quite right, but if adult social care in the community is undermined, where will those older people go? Where will the support be to make sure the plan is put into action-that Elsie or Sam can ensure that their home is adapted before they leave hospital, so they can actually be at home? The danger is that what is happening is very short term.

The private sector depends on the public sector for growth and for contracts. For example, there is no doubt that Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency, has been fundamental in helping our airport to get off the ground-literally, as it were. What is going to happen about the investment that RDAs are providing? What assessment has been made of the loss of private investment following the abolition of the RDAs?

There is a lot at stake here. Of course we have to make cuts and reduce the deficit, but our plans showed that we could do it in a meaningful way that did not put communities on hold or even take them backwards. That is the danger of the proposals before us tonight.

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7.42 pm

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): I want to start by adding my congratulations to my hon. Friends the Members for Dudley South (Chris Kelly) and for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal) on their excellent maiden speeches. I am sure the rest of the House will join me in hoping that they will speak again in this Chamber in the very near future.

Today's debate is very important. As Members will know, local government financing represents approximately 25% of Government spending and is responsible for delivering many of the essential front-line services our constituents rely on. Such a level of spending therefore cannot be immune to the spending cuts forced on us by the parlous state of the finances we inherited from the Labour Government. The historic local government funding formula has for far too long been used, especially by the Labour Government, not as a political tool but as a political weapon-a weapon with which to beat the shire counties of England for having the temerity to vote Conservative.

Local government finance is a particular concern to me and to my constituents, as my constituency suffers greatly under the historic funding regime. This year, each child in North West Leicestershire is having £3,888 spent on their education, compared with the £4,497 spent on each child in the city of Leicester-a difference of some £600 per child per year, and the disparity is increasing. Last year, the difference in funding was £550 per child.

Toby Perkins: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andrew Bridgen: Let me make a little progress and I am sure the theme will become clear.

That funding difference is putting the children of North West Leicestershire at a major disadvantage. The two biggest senior schools in my constituency-Ashby and King Edward-are disadvantaged by nearly £1 million and £500,000 respectively each year compared with the city of Leicester. That simply is not fair.

Perhaps the biggest unfairness emerges when we consider the level of deprivation in North West Leicestershire. According to the last census, in one ward in my constituency 468 children were living in income-deprived households, yet their educational needs were funded by £600 less this year than were those of pupils in the city of Leicester. That cannot be right, and I look forward to the pupil premium redressing this unfairness.

Despite these funding shortages, Leicestershire county council is performing excellently and is a four-star council. According to independent inspectors,

The independent inspectorate also comments on how

It is vital that well-run local authorities such as Leicestershire be looked at sympathetically when it comes to departmental spending cuts. Fit organisations have little fat to cut away; it is the bloated authorities that have been
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disproportionately funded and badly managed that should be looking at trimming their organisations. Perhaps they will decide not to do that, and to pass on the costs of their inefficiency to the long-suffering taxpayer. I urge us to remove the cap on council tax increases, which will allow them to do just that. Councils that choose to take that path will then expose their profligacy, waste and poor management to the wrath of the electorate, leaving them fully accountable for their actions-hopefully through the ballot box.

It is not just in education where my constituents are suffering the effects of the previous Labour Government's policies, but also housing. The Labour district council in North West Leicestershire, before being relieved of office in 2007-with the biggest swing in the country against Labour in those elections, but that is another matter-left the council housing stock in a lamentable state, rated as "poor", with no stars. Despite this, owing to Labour Government policy we have the ludicrous situation in which a third of all the rents we collect every year are passed back to central Government to maintain housing stock in other areas, despite the fact that a third of our housing stock is classified as "sub-standard", that we have elderly residents who are still forced to rely on solid fuel for heating and water, and that rents are increasing. We need to end this unfair and inefficient arrangement. I also look forward to councils being able to retain moneys raised by selling council houses, so that they can be re-invested in building new council houses in the district.

When the Opposition talk about local councils not building social housing, they might want to consider the fact that, in answers to questions in the last Parliament, the Government conceded to my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) that the £200 million a year collected in local council rents nationally was not even spent on housing but simply entered the general taxation coffers. Despite this, they have left us with the largest deficit in the history of this country at £156 billion.

There is a comparison to be made between the financial management of the previous Labour Government and the management of North West Leicestershire district council when it was under Labour control. During those sad 33 years of Labour control, my constituents faced an above-inflation council tax rise year in, year out.

Toby Perkins: The hon. Gentleman says that his constituents suffered under a Labour council for 33 years. If it was so terrible, why did they keep voting for it?

Andrew Bridgen: I think we needed to have a shake-up of the Conservative party in North West Leicestershire, which came in 2007. When the people of my constituency make their minds up, they make their minds up, and we had the biggest swing against Labour in those elections, as I pointed out.

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