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29 Jun 2010 : Column 817
9.25 pm

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): I keep hearing from Tory MPs claiming that these are Labour cuts. Well, it is quite simple: if you do not like the cuts or do not agree with them-if you think they are Labour cuts-vote against them; do not impose them. It is a very simple point, but it is an opportunity open to all Members on the Government Benches, both Tories and Lib Dems.

Of course, the reality is very different. The truth is that these are Tory and Lib Dem cuts, and they are enjoying making them. The face of the Secretary of State says it all: he is looking forward to them, and he has form on this, as other Members have said. If it is not the ideological passion of the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) to make these cuts, then what is it? Economists have shown us that if we make these cuts now, they will be far too deep and far too early for the economic recovery to be sustained.

Cuts in-year in local government are unheard of. They are unplanned, and they undermine what councils and local people want to achieve in their communities. I spent 15 years as a local councillor, and I remember when the then Secretary of State was first getting started on this issue. I remember the leaky school buildings, the outside toilets, the teachers buying equipment out of their own pockets. I am proud that Labour fixed the roof while the sun was shining. I am proud that we built new schools, bought the textbooks, employed the support staff who freed teachers to teach, and provided free nursery places.

My friends' children have older brothers and sisters who went through the nursery system and went to school before there were free nursery places-before Sure Start was available to them. Their parents tell me the difference that the younger children have seen as a result of that Labour investment, of which I am very proud, and I will fight hard to protect it, as will other Labour Members.

While I was a local government children's services spokesman, I saw at first hand how many essential services are provided by education departments and social services, and the difference they make to the children and families who depend on those services. Sure Start children's centres are among a number of such examples. However, under threat from these cuts is the extended schools grant. It makes a huge difference to children who otherwise would not have breakfast to be able to go to breakfast clubs. It makes a huge difference that children can go to after-school clubs, and that working families are able to get by. The cuts to those grants will make a profound difference. They will cause real hardship for many children, young people and their families.

Thanks to the services now available, vulnerable children have a much better chance in life and an opportunity to get out of the cycle of deprivation, neglect and poor health that was previously the lot they faced in life. So the cuts in those services really will hurt those who can least afford to suffer them.

In Sefton we are facing £2.1 million in education service cuts. Cuts in local education services mean not the money that is going straight to schools, but the money that is there to support schools. So it is smoke and mirrors to claim that these cuts will not affect schools: they will, and badly.

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The Labour group called a meeting in Sefton, and the Tory and Lib Dem councillors refused to turn up to take part in a debate about where the cuts should fall and how the budget should be managed. That was an abdication by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in Sefton, and the same tactic is clearly being tried by the Government, because they are asking councils to make cuts with no guidance, in-year, and yet the worst is still to come. A further £504 million of cuts have yet to be specified, so the worst is yet to come in this year. What the right-wing Tory-Lib Dem coalition Government in Parliament are doing is the same as what the right-wing coalition in Sefton is doing: they are abdicating their responsibility and they are going to hit the poorest hardest.

9.30 pm

Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): In light of the time, I shall be very brief. My hon. Friends have well made the point that the tough decisions that our Front-Bench team and the Government are making are based on the deficit that we have inherited, and that that is a problem that we must deal with. I shall not take up time discussing that issue, because it has been well covered.

I wish to discuss my experience as a councillor for more than a decade under the old Labour Government; I was also a council leader. When I listened to the shadow Secretary of State waxing lyrical about what the Labour Government did on local government and what they had planned I did not recognise the fairy tale being told. The local government that I remember as a councillor and council leader is one where my officers wasted countless weeks throughout the year; they were not providing front-line services and were not looking at how we could do more for our residents, but were ticking boxes, filling in forms and keeping different auditors and quangos happy. At the time of the recent announcement of cuts for local government, I was on BBC "Look East" talking about Great Yarmouth and its 2% cut. Labour Members would say that this has happened only in certain areas, but that is not the case because Great Yarmouth's authority had one of the biggest cuts.

My local authority, which I am proud of, has turned around and said, "We can deal with this. Any good business can deal with a 2% cut, so we can deal with it and we will do so without dealing with front-line services." I said to the leader of my local council, "If we could wave a magic wand and if central Government could make life easier, faster and better for the council and, more importantly, for the residents of Great Yarmouth, what thing could we do? Is it to provide more money?" He said no.

When I speak to councillors-I found that this was the case when I was a councillor too-I am told that this is not necessarily about the money, but about the ability to deliver services. It is about the ability to have real power and to make decisions locally on matters that matter to people locally. I fully support the Government and I give great credit to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the work that the Government are doing so quickly to devolve power to local authorities. I say bring on more, so that we can get residents in areas such as Great Yarmouth to see that their council matters and their vote matters, because their councillors will be making decisions that will affect their lives, not ticking
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boxes for central Government and suits in Whitehall. I will therefore be fully supporting the amendment, and I say that the more power we can give to local councils to deliver local powers locally with residents, the better.

9.32 pm

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): Local government has been at the vanguard of progressive change for more than a century. Some of the most significant and innovative advances originated in local government. The introduction of modern sewerage systems in our towns and cities, the replacement of slum dwellings with decent public housing, the development of comprehensive schools and the provision of care for elderly and disabled people are just a few examples of the improvements brought about by local government.

When the Tories were last in power they did their level best to annihilate local government, and now that they are back they have set their sights on finishing the job. It is the local government equivalent of the return of the Daleks, with the right hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr Pickles) playing the role of Davros, the supreme leader of the Daleks, determined to exterminate progressive local government once and for all, aided and abetted by the Cybermen Liberal Democrats. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government should be standing up for local government, not seeking to strike it down.

Given the Secretary of State's dismal record as leader of Bradford city council, where he first gained his notoriety for vicious cuts, we should not be too surprised that he is now using the national stage to inflict his cuts agenda on the whole country. An article published last year in The Independent reminded us about his period as leader of Bradford city council. It stated that


He did not finish there. The article goes on to say:

Sounds familiar, does it not?

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): The hon. Gentleman should realise that the only people who sold off old people's homes were in the Labour council that followed. He should realise that there were more teachers at the end of my period as leader of the council. The people who cut the teaching numbers were in the Labour council.

Chris Williamson: As Corporal Jones used to say, "They don't like it up 'em," do they? The sad fact is that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government knows from his period as council leader that his cuts package will hit the poorest areas the hardest and he knows that some of our most vulnerable
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citizens throughout the country rely on the very council services that he wants to destroy. He knows, but he just does not care. He also knows that despite the local government aberration that was Bradford city council under his leadership, it was local government that helped to lead the resistance to the malevolent policies of Margaret Thatcher's and John Major's Administrations. It was local authorities-

Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford) (Con) rose-

Chris Williamson: No, I will not give way. It was local authorities such as Derby county council that resisted the Tories' wicked attempts to starve the miners back to work during their year-long strike. What Derbyshire county council did was to ensure that the miners' families had enough food to eat. It was councils-

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con) rose-

Chris Williamson: No, I will not give way. It was councils such as Derby and Nottingham city councils that resisted the Tories' absurd bus deregulation policy by establishing arm's length public transport companies. The Secretary of State knows that by emasculating local government, he will make it much harder for councils to stand up to this Con-Dem coalition, yet in true Orwellian double-speak he recently told the ConservativeHome blog site that he was

that is, handing power back to people to make cuts.

9.37 pm

Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): I think I have three minutes to make my speech, and I thank the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) for sitting down.

We have heard so much hot air from the Opposition, it is unbelievable. I am glad to be able to speak at the last minute, so that we can have some common sense. I do not think that the Opposition realise that they lost the general election. They lost the general election because they have no idea of the economic damage that they have done to our country. They have done that damage throughout our economy, including in local government finance. They have done that damage in local government finance because they have not understood that the allocation of local government funding should have been based on the needs of individuals in each constituency and not on petty party politics. When we look at the areas in which local government funding fell, we can see that wherever there were Labour voters, that was where the money went. It was not based at all on the needs of individuals.

As the Government make the reforms, we must ensure that the changes reflect the needs. Let us take one example from my constituency. Local school children got £900 less per head per year than those in neighbouring Birmingham. If anyone from the Opposition thinks that there are not vulnerable people in Bromsgrove, they are welcome to come and visit and I shall take them around myself and show them just how similar parts of my constituency are to urban Birmingham.

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No matter what the constituency, none of them are uniformly affluent or poor. Areas of wealth and deprivation exist in them all and the needs of the vulnerable in my constituency are no less valid than those of the vulnerable in the constituencies of Opposition Members. As we are forced to make Labour's cuts to local government spending, it is essential that we also devolve local decision making and cut bureaucracy. Let me end by saying that we must make sure that never again is local government funding allocated according to petty party politics. It should be allocated according to local need. I support the amendment.

9.40 pm

Mr Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) (Lab): We have had the benefit of a full day's debate and, by goodness, we needed it to draw out from Members on the Government Benches the full colour of their rhetoric.

Let me pay tribute to the two maiden speeches made today by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal), who, with great elegance and lightness of touch, paid tribute to both his Sikh heritage and his predecessor, and by the hon. Member for Dudley South (Chris Kelly), who also praised his predecessor.

May I thank all Labour Members, who have contributed so strongly? My hon. Friends the Members for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) and for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) spoke about the shambolic way in which the Government have dealt with the programme of cuts, and my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish also talked about the holistic nature of agencies in local government. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), who chairs the Communities and Local Government Committee, gave a forensic dissection of the drift and incoherence of Government policy on social housing, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) rightly picked up on the human aspects of all this.

Other good speeches came from my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), who talked about how unfair the cuts are, from my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), who talked about the impact on the future jobs fund in her constituency, and from my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), who reminded us in his powerful speech that it is the people who sweep our streets, who teach and who look after our elderly who are most affected. My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) made the point, which Members on the Government Benches would do well to listen to, that we did fix the roof while the sun was shining.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) talked about the Conservative party as modern-day Leninists. I wonder whether the Secretary of State, as a modern-day Stalinist, would agree with that. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) talked about the impact on the voluntary sector and the big society, and, finally, we had a bravura performance involving Daleks and, again, the Secretary of State, from my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson).

Those speeches, and the examples that hon. Members have given, have shown that the impact of the cuts is being felt already. As the Financial Times survey of
29 Jun 2010 : Column 822
22 June showed, Connexions Positive Activities for Young People and free school meals are highly visible services that will be cut the most. The Chairman of the Select Committee also pointed that out. Just as there was nothing in the Government's Budget for younger people, so there is nothing for younger people in these cuts. The Government are removing subsidies from the six-month offer and they are ending the second tranche of the future jobs fund. All that means 40,000 to 80,000 youth jobs going.

Those decisions are not based on evidence. The editor of the Local Government Chronicle has said that in this short-term world-the short-term world that Members on the Government Benches inhabit-it is judgment and ideology that are key to decision making. As I used to be told at school, it is like the old speaker's notes, "Argument weak here, shout like mad," for those on the Government side.

Analysis of the future jobs fund shows that there was significant improvement in relation to the 12% figure up to the end of January 2010. As the leader of Barnsley council said, the Government have scrapped the scheme when it was just getting going. The future jobs fund worked towards success and breaking a vicious cycle.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham), in his excellent speech, talked about the way in which the Government have ignored Total Place and the way in which free schools, elected police officers and NHS commissioning are all part of pushing towards silo government. The Government are taking up positions based on departmental silos to avoid taking collective action across departments. What about their new policy proposals? Where will the equity be in schemes that will cream off significant amounts of money? What will the position be for students with special educational needs, for example, in the new free schools? Total Place shows what can be done, but, unfortunately, the Government parties seem to have a completely confused approach to it. The danger is that their shambolic representation of this issue will entrench inefficiencies as those silos and the salami-slicing of budgets set in.

What do the Government expect to fill the vacuum? The voluntary sector and the big society. Although the coalition expects third sector bodies to play a key role, the cuts that have been announced will be a triple whammy for them. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), councils will cut the sums that third sector bodies currently receive. The resulting financial pressure will restrict the capacity of those organisations at the very time when they are expected to take on a greater role-another point made by many Opposition Members.

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