(11 months ago)Commons Chamber
I will keep this brief, as I am sure the Minister will be pleased to hear. It is disappointing that the Government have rejected our amendments, which, for reasons already outlined, we believe would have further widened public access to loos. The Minister will be aware that there are strong feelings in both Houses about the number, quality and accessibility of public loos, and the Lords will return to the matters that we have raised in our amendments.
The Bill as it stands is a welcome attempt to cover some of the costs associated with public lavatories, and for that reason, we will support it. The relief that the Bill provides does not cover all the costs of maintaining public loos, given the enhanced cleaning regimes that councils and other loo providers have put in place to tackle covid.
I sincerely hope that introducing the Bill at this time is a signal from the Government that they are committed to supporting councils, many of which have run public toilets during this crisis. If the Government are serious about saving public loos, they should also consider our request to carry out an equality impact assessment. Doing so would be a tangible demonstration that the Government are committed to supporting the most vulnerable.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
(1 year ago)Commons Chamber
The Health Secretary quite rightly praised my local council of Blackburn for its efforts to bring down infection rates. I quote:
“On Blackburn, I think the council… are doing a fantastic job… they’ve taken… steps locally and I applaud that. This is exactly the sort of local action we want to see.”
Although Councillor Khan welcomes the praise, as do the communities that have worked closely with the council through this difficult time, does the Minister recognise that they have been failed by the test and track system? I raised that in the House last week. Data made available to me over the weekend shows that only 43% of people from the national service have been contacted successfully. Does he accept that the additional burden on the council requires resources to help keep services running and keep our communities safe? They need the funding now. Finally, will Minister agree to meet me and Councillor Khan to discuss the challenges going forward?
(1 year ago)Commons Chamber
I thank everyone in the Chamber for their contributions, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) who introduced the debate, and my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western), for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake), for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) and for Reading East (Matt Rodda).
Everyone has recognised the fantastic contribution of local councils and it is well deserved praise. Local councils have stood up to the challenge. They have continued to provide and support social care for elderly and disabled people under very difficult circumstances, have found accommodation for 90% of rough sleepers at extremely short notice, have administered more than £10 billion in business rates relief in grants for local businesses and co-ordinated support for people in vulnerable groups who have been shielding.
The response has been all the more impressive because local government has seen unprecedented levels of funding cuts over the last decade. It is interesting to hear Members talking about the last two years. I was a councillor for 20 years. In the last decade, under the current Government, local government has lost £51 billion. Just think about that—£51 billion in a decade. As a consequence, people have lost their jobs—street cleaners, park attendants, librarians, key workers, social workers, youth workers—and services have been lost at a great level. Councils are now facing a very difficult decision, because the key workers that we have clapped and cheered over the past few weeks could be at risk of losing their jobs, unless the Government keep their promise.
The Government have devolved responsibility for key elements of social care spending, such as crisis grants, the independent living fund and council tax. Councils are the mechanism that holds communities together. My local council—Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council—has done an absolutely amazing job. The council leader, Mohammed Khan, has been totally committed to keeping stability in the town, keeping people safe and delivering the services they need. But Blackburn with Darwen has lost 30% of its funding in a decade—the second highest figure in the north-west, beaten only by Liverpool.
Blackburn with Darwen has lost £51.7 million, and I am ashamed that we can sit here cheering councils and saying what a fantastic job they have done, while totally ignoring the cuts they have had over the last 10 years. The council has done everything in its power to support people through this pandemic. We have seen more than 30,000 food parcels, 3,500 vulnerable people supported and £40 million issued in business grants, all of which has helped Blackburn with Darwen through a difficult time. I would also like to recognise the 1,700 volunteers in my constituency, who have proudly played their part in helping vulnerable people through.
It has been quite clear that the Government’s stuttering over national decisions has placed even more burdens on local councils. As has been widely publicised, there were shortages of PPE, particularly in care homes. I have spoken to many care homes in my constituency that were at their wits’ end because they could not get the equipment they needed to keep their residents safe. Of course, it was councils that stepped in when the Government failed. The Government just acted too slowly. As a consequence, people lost their lives.
The school voucher scheme—another area where councils had to step in—was riddled with problems. Parents and children were left abandoned when the Government failed, and councils stepped in, giving children the food they needed. It is shameful that the Government extended the scheme only after a premier league footballer campaigned on the issue. Maybe what we need, rather than proper debate, are glossy headlines to make the Government move.
Test and track is an absolute joke—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but it is. Local directors have been given no information—
I can actually prove it, Minister. They have been given no information or have been given information too late to implement any changes. As for the app, I am sure we will see it some day.
All of this has been a recipe for disaster, but councils have kept their promises, because they are committed to serving their residents. Yet again, councils will be given no comfort in this estimates debate today. How long must council services—those on the frontline in our hard-hit communities—be treated as Cinderella services? On 16 March, the Secretary of State told councils that the Government stood ready to do whatever was necessary to support them in their response to coronavirus. By 4 May, he was back-pedalling on that pledge, and he gave a grim warning:
“We would not want anyone to labour under a false impression that what they are doing is guaranteed to be funded by central Government.”
Interestingly, the Chancellor said the exact opposite yesterday. He says they agreed wherever it takes. Perhaps we again have an example of a headline not being a true reflection of what is happening in debates.
It is true that the Government have provided councils with funding of £3.7 billion in three tranches to meet the costs of the crisis. The first was mainly for adult social care and was allotted on the basis of relative need. However, the second was allocated on a per capita basis and did not take into account deprivation, despite the mortality rate from the virus in the most deprived areas being more than double that in the least deprived areas. As a result, the funding for metropolitan councils in deprived areas was substantially lower in the second tranche, whereas the allocation for many Conservative-controlled shire councils miraculously increased. Funding for Surrey rose by 32%, whereas that for Liverpool fell by the same percentage—so much for the promise of levelling up.
Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council received a little over £9 million, yet it has been well publicised that, with the anticipated loss of income, the council could face a deficit double the size by the end of the financial year. In March, April and May, councils lost £470 million in business rates and £506 million in council tax as businesses were forced to close and people lost their jobs.
Councils across the country are already making cuts to services and will inevitably be looking at serving section 114 notices. Last week, the Secretary of State announced just £500 million in further funding for councils and a yet-to-be-worked-out sum for loss of income, fees and charges. I say “yet-to-be-worked-out”, because once again, there is no detail.
I recognise that time has marched on. I just ask the Minister to urge the Secretary of State to live up to his promise and, perhaps if that does not work, we can get the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) to get the Prime Minister’s adviser to make a difference.
(1 year, 1 month ago)Commons Chamber
Thank you, Mr Speaker, but it is not so sunny today I am afraid.
The Government made a promise to councils that they would provide full support so that councils could do whatever it takes to get through the coronavirus crisis. According to Local Government Association figures released on 29 May, councils needed as much as £6 billion to cover the cost of coping with the ongoing pandemic. If things returned to normal, that was the Government’s promise. However, we all know it is obvious that things will not to return to normal in July. Will the Minister speak to his Treasury colleagues and keep his promise to cover the deficit faced by councils and prevent them from going over the cliff edge? I acknowledge the Minister’s earlier responses, but he has yet to give a complete commitment to funding councils’ deficit.