John Stevenson contributions to the Finance Act 2019

Thu 1st November 2018 Budget Resolutions (Commons Chamber)
1st reading: House of Commons
5 interactions (1,009 words)

Budget Resolutions

(1st reading: House of Commons)
John Stevenson Excerpts
Thursday 1st November 2018

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing) - Hansard

Order. I am afraid that I have to reduce the time limit to five minutes.

John Stevenson Portrait John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
1 Nov 2018, 1:37 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). He made an interesting speech, although I think he missed out one aspect that I will touch on.

I want to refer to the macroeconomic situation. The Government’s priority has been to reduce the deficit and to see debt falling as a percentage of GDP—something with which I completely agree and is definitely the right approach. We also have to recognise that the business cycle does exist, and that we are probably closer to the next recession than we are further from the previous one. We need robust finances to deal with and cope with that, as and when it comes. To a certain extent, the problem was in many respects created by the last Labour Government before the great recession when they were borrowing £40 billion a year at a time they should have been running a balanced budget. Had they actually been doing so, we would now be in surplus.

I support and encourage the Government’s aims because strong finances give a strong platform for the future. Indeed, strong finances require a strong economy. Government policy should be directed towards achieving this—it should be an economy for everyone. I will therefore concentrate on two specific things that I believe can help. First, we need to rebalance the economy and the country, which the right hon. Member for Doncaster North did not mention. The second issue is housing, which he did mention. These areas are interlinked as local government can and should play a key role in both.

The reality in our country is that we have a southern-dominated economy, and we have to acknowledge that there is underperformance by the regions to a certain extent. We do not want to diminish the success of the south—far from it, given its benefit to our economy overall—but we have to recognise that there is an underperformance in other parts of the country.

Julian Knight Portrait Julian Knight - Hansard

I think that my hon. Friend is talking about productivity. Does he recognise that if we are to ensure that we have sound public finances in the future and that the debt-to-GDP ratio falls, we will need to increase our nation’s productivity, which means investing in the regions so that we bring up our national wealth?

John Stevenson Portrait John Stevenson - Hansard
1 Nov 2018, 1:39 p.m.

I completely agree—the central theme of my speech is exactly that. We have to recognise the success of the south of England and also make sure that other parts of the country are equally successful and drive the productivity goals that we all want.

There is a housing imbalance that we have to acknowledge as well. The south-east and the south are where we find housing pressures regarding demand and price. I shall therefore come on to how we can, I hope, address this, although I have to accept, acknowledge and support the initiatives that the Government have already brought in to help places like Carlisle. Tax cuts; raising the living wage above inflation; a job creation machine that is taking unemployment back to 1970s’ levels—these policies have helped the job security of the people of Carlisle, whose living standards have actually increased.

We have also seen the Government’s northern powerhouse initiatives. I commend the work of the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), who is responsible for the northern powerhouse and takes a very positive and active approach to his role. The city growth deals also benefit various parts of the country. The Government’s borderlands growth initiative has been extremely welcome and well supported right across my region. Indeed, five councils are actively working together and have made a very positive submission to the Government. I look forward to reaching the heads of agreement in the new year and seeing some decent finance going into the region to help to support growth and productivity.

I believe that we can achieve so much more, however. Devolution is a Conservative principle. We want more powers devolved down to the regions—tax-raising powers, but also more responsibility for local government. We should be proactively promoting the unitisation of local government so that we have unitary authorities up and down the country. I am a great supporter of elected mayors. We have had success in that regard in the north of England, and I would like to see it spread right across the whole region. To take Cumbria as a simple example, we have seven councils and 400 councillors for half a million people, which is a completely ridiculous situation that is badly in need of reform. The difficulty is that while everybody in Cumbria recognises the need for reform, they cannot agree on what that reform should be. That is where central Government can help by giving a lead.

I want the Government to start to think more radically. Thinking about education, should we be saying to all schools in the north of England that they should become academies? We need to make sure that skills initiatives are locally based so that they are relevant to the local economy, not necessarily the national economy. The industrial strategy should be beefed up, for example so that we have a far more robust energy policy—again, that is very relevant to Cumbria. Should there not be financial incentives so that people who want to invest look to the regions and the north, rather than always to the south and London? How can we alter capital allowances, the planning laws, VAT, rates and national insurance to incentivise people to invest in the north? Of course, infrastructure spending can improve the economic performance of the regions. In my area, an application has been put in for housing infrastructure funding that would unlock the possibility of 10,000 new homes.

If businesses invest in the north, people will move to the north—they move to where there is economic activity. That would spread wealth and create a more balanced economy. People will move to the north rather than the south, relieving housing pressures down in the south. We will then have a stronger economy that produces better public services and a more balanced country. Government policy has recognised much of this, but I encourage Ministers to be more radical in recognising that local government can be a driver of change and a positive influence. I will certainly support the Government in taking a far more radical approach.

Helen Hayes Portrait Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
1 Nov 2018, 1:43 p.m.

This is a Government fiddling around the edges when comprehensive reform is needed, and announcing figures with a flourish in the hope that no one will notice that the sums are inadequate.

When the Chancellor spoke of the end of austerity, my constituents across Dulwich and West Norwood wondered what he was talking about. Lambeth Council, one of the councils serving my constituency, has already lost six in every 10 of the pounds it had to spend in Government grant in 2010, but it faces a further £43 million of cuts over the next four years, which is more than it currently spends on recycling, parks, libraries, children’s centres, roads, pavements and community safety combined. Further cuts can come only from services that are already stretched to the limit. When the Chancellor and the Prime Minister speak of ending austerity but make no pledge to reverse the cuts to local government funding, it should not come as a surprise that councillors across the country of all parties, including thousands of Conservative councillors, react with total incredulity and disbelief. The Government have outsourced austerity to local government in an utterly shameful way.

Adult social care services across the country are at breaking point. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has seen evidence of care home and home care providers handing back contracts to councils that they cannot afford to run, and we know that 1.4 million vulnerable people who are in need of care are not receiving any care at all. A lack of social care capacity continues to present huge challenges for the NHS, both in terms of acute hospital admissions and delayed discharge, and to create misery for countless families who are battling to secure the care that their vulnerable loved ones need. Into this system the Government have announced the injection of some short-term funding to address winter pressures, but there is no short-term fix for care homes that have closed. Dealing with that requires months of planning, refurbishment, recruitment and training, which can be delivered only if there is long-term certainty about funding.

The funding for 2019-20 announced this week in the Budget also falls far short of the £2.6 billion that is widely accepted as the funding injection required just meet current social care needs, and more funding is required to plan for and meet the expanding care needs of our ageing population. Social care funding needs comprehensive reform if we are to create a system that can look after everyone who needs care with the dignity and compassion that any of us would expect for our loved ones. It is testament to a Government mired in internal division and thinking only of how to avoid short-term defeats that they are not up to the challenge of reforming social care and can only find inadequate, piecemeal, short-term sticking plasters.

Children’s services in many local authorities are struggling to fulfil their statutory obligations, still less to proactively support families who may be at risk. There is a crisis of recruitment and retention in children’s social work because of the risks involved in working in a system that is stretched to the limit. Yet the Chancellor’s Budget speech did not even mention this vital frontline service. Schools in my constituency are making extraordinarily difficult decisions to cut teaching assistant and teacher posts in order to make inadequate levels of special educational needs and disabilities funding stretch further, and to sustain extra-curricular activities. School staff are going above and beyond every day to sustain the quality of our local schools. On the Friday before half-term, I and many other parents at my youngest daughter’s school were in tears as we said goodbye to a deputy headteacher with more than 20 years’ service who had taken voluntary redundancy because the school could no longer afford her post. When the cuts are striking at the heart of school communities in this way, the Chancellor’s announcement of a pitiful amount of funding for “little extras” is simply insulting.

Last Friday, I joined a police response team in Southwark on their late shift. We spoke of the huge challenges of increased knife and gun crime and gang violence, moped and cycle-enabled robberies, which particularly affect secondary-age children, and increased burglary. Last night there was a double shooting in my constituency. Members of the team told me how their job is being made harder by cuts in police numbers; by the closure of our local magistrates and youth court, which means that they have to travel much further to attend court to give evidence; and by the larger numbers of people in mental health crisis for whom they end up being the first port of call. Yet the Chancellor announced not a penny of extra funding for neighbourhood policing or for the criminal justice system.

Overshadowing the whole Budget is Brexit, which will create chaos for our economy, cause many businesses to grind to a halt, and drastically shrink the tax receipts that we need to fund our public services. This Budget is a cynical attempt to create positive headlines in the midst of Brexit gloom. My constituents see austerity as it is, because they are living with its consequences every single day. Saying it is over does not make it so. That will require comprehensive reform, and a commitment to empower local government and fund public services that can be delivered only by a Labour Government.