Sheffield South East MP, and Chair of the all-party Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government, has strongly challenged the government’s record on local government finance in a debate in the House of Commons.
Clive Betts told James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government that the massive redistribution of resources which has happened since 2010 and is continuing to be made in the spending plans – taking resources from poorer to wealthier areas – was very close to becoming seen as little more than financial gerrymandering in a politically partisan way.
Whilst welcoming an extra £650 million for social care, Clive Betts said this fell far short of meeting the increasing gap between resources and expenditure. Further, these extra resources for social care would only be there if councils fulfilled the government’s wishes to put council tax up above inflation levels by agreeing additional precepts for social care and for police services.
Clive Betts also said that there were very serious concerns about the implications of the government’s policies. He said that council expenditure is now overwhelmingly dominated by statutory obligations to the elderly, children in care and people with disabilities.
Meanwhile, as the independent National Audit Office has confirmed, other services have borne the brunt of the cuts since 2010, with private sector housing cut by 60%, that traffic management and road safety cut by 60%, recreation and sport has been cut by 50%, libraries have been cut by 30%, and planning and development has been cut by 50%. Those cuts are the ones hitting communities and the vast majority of households.
Clive Betts said:
“In the end, it is not councils that are hit by such cuts; it is communities.”
He then went on to illustrate the point by reference to Sheffield. He said:
“It has happened in my city, where libraries are having to be staffed by volunteers, grass-cutting is done less often and private sector housing officers are not sufficient to bring selective licensing on the scale that we would like.
There are cuts to funding for road safety, with bus routes scrapped, and children’s centres and youth centres closed.”
He pointed out that the same thing is happening across the country in the constituencies and local authorities of represented by all political parties.
Local taxpayers are bearing the brunt of paying for nationally-determined statutory services whilst losing whole swathes of the local discretionary services – parks, refuse collection, road maintenance – which support most households, most communities and improve the quality of life for all.
Clive Betts said:
“We hear people start to say, “What is my council doing for me? What am I getting from it? I’m paying a lot more as council tax rises by 6%, but I’m getting a lot less.”
We should all worry about the impact on, and support for, local democracy and local councils as a whole, if that continues and people think that they are paying money into the system but getting nothing out.”
Clive Betts also said that it was extraordinary that having just announced the extra priority to be given to prevention in the long-term funding plan for the NHS, the government’s first act was to cut another £80 million from the public health grant. This was totally contradictory and beyond comprehension.