Government suffers symbolic Commons defeat on council funding

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Tory MPs have been accused of “laughing and sneering and smirking” at public services in crisis as the Government suffered a symbolic defeat on council funding.

MPs backed a Labour motion which said local government “has severely suffered as a result of almost eight years of brutal and devastating cuts”.

Conservative MPs abstained on the opposition motion, which was non-binding on ministers and was voted through by 238 votes to 0.

During the debate, shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne highlighted the “drastic impact” of cuts in areas such as children’s services, accusing ministers of devolving the blame to councillors.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid acknowledged local government had faced challenging times, and said many had improved services.

But a Labour MP urged Mr Javid to “develop some cojones” and secure extra funding for local government.

Labour’s motion calls on the Government to initiate a review into the funding of local government to ensure it is sustainable.

It also urges ministers to immediately provide more resources to the sector “to prevent more authorities following Conservative-run Northamptonshire into effective bankruptcy”.

Mr Gwynne said: “When the public watching this debate see Tory MPs laughing and sneering and smirking at our public services in crisis, they will know what side the Tories are on, and it’s not on their side.”

He highlighted figures saying children’s services faced a £2 billion funding shortfall.

Some 72,000 children were taken into care last year, while the number of serious child protection cases has doubled in the last seven years, with 500 new cases launched every day, Mr Gwynne said.

More than 170,000 children were subject to child protection plans last year, double the number seven years ago, he added.

MPs heard that since 2010, 49.1% of central government funding has been cut from local authorities.

Over the same period, metropolitan district councils have seen a reduction in spending power of 33.9% in real terms, while county council spending power has fallen by 22.1%, said Mr Gwynne.

“Spending power masks the true scale of the cuts to Government grants, and this is having a drastic impact on council services,” he said.

“Youth centres, museums and libraries are having to close. Our social care system is in crisis.

“Compared to 2010, there are now 455 fewer libraries, 1,240 fewer Sure Start Centres, and 600 fewer youth centres.”

MPs heard warnings that cuts to preventative services were resulting in more children going into care.

Mr Gwynne also highlighted low levels of house building and that rough sleeping has doubled since Labour left office.

“They are merely shifting the blame on to local councillors of all political persuasions,” he said.

“They have devolved the cuts, they have devolved the blame, and they have sought to distance themselves from decisions that each and every member sitting opposite is directly responsible for.”

Mr Javid said: “These have been challenging times for local government but it has been notable how impressively many councils have stepped up to make hard-earned taxpayers’ money go much further, and not just to protect services but often improve those services.

“The fact that satisfaction levels among residents have remained broadly steady is testament to this, but of course I recognise that these hard won gains have been achieved in a very difficult financial climate.”

However, he was later challenged by Labour’s Gareth Thomas (Harrow West), who said Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson have run public campaigns for more funding for their departments.

Mr Thomas said of the Communities Secretary: “When is the Secretary of State going to develop some cojones and do the same for local government?”

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