Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Debate

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Department: Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities

Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
1st reading: House of Commons
Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(5 years ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Act 2019 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
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I accept what the hon. Lady says. The problem is that it is about not only the money that schools get, but the costs that central Government keep imposing on schools—pensions, the apprenticeship levy or other expenditures. The costs keep going up, so the amount that schools have to spend is squeezed every year.

The Government need to do two things. First, they need to consider the quantum, as the hon. Lady has said. Secondly, when they impose an additional tax or an additional cost on a school, they need to consider very carefully how that school’s budget is being squeezed. We want to give our children the fairest possible start in life, and allocating adequate resources to education is almost the most important thing a Government can do, which is why I feel so strongly about this issue.

I also feel strongly about children’s special needs. The amount that Gloucestershire is spending in this regard is going up and up. I am grateful to the Government for providing an additional £1.35 million this year and next to deal with the problem, but they need to understand the causes of the increased demand in special needs, and education, health and care plans. The Government probably need to ring-fence this budget so that we do not get into the situation that we did this year, whereby Gloucestershire County Council was going to top-slice its general schools budget by up to 0.5% to deal with the problem. It is currently entitled to do so, but that is not fair on schoolchildren in general, which is why the Government need to ring-fence this budget.

Local enterprise partnerships—where local authorities contribute a significant amount of money, certainly some of the expertise and some of the governance—are rather variable, as we discovered from the NAO report. Some work extremely well; some work far less well. Some are governed extremely well; some are governed less well. There is geographical overlap in some, but not in others. If the Government wish to deliver their industrial strategy to the best possible degree, they need to look at the whole matter of LEPs quite carefully.

The fire and rescue service in Gloucestershire is currently run by the county council, but there is considerable pressure from the Home Office to transfer it to the police and crime commissioner. We have already had one inquiry and the proposal was rejected, yet the police and crime commissioner still wishes to overturn the decision. I say to my colleagues on the Front Bench that a considerable amount of resource and effort is being wasted by continually bickering over this matter. The fire and rescue service, I say loud and clear, is well run in Gloucestershire. The county council supports it, as do, I think, most Conservative colleagues—certainly, I support it very strongly. It should remain where it is.

We need to get local government funding functioning properly. This is a really serious problem. The Government wish to move to a new form of funding—the core rate support grant—in local government in 2021. That means that there are vital decisions that they need to make quite quickly. The proposal is that councils should keep three quarters of the revenue, down from 90% originally, but fundamental decisions on how this will work are coming very late in the day. No council should be under financial pressure, because of the tier splits, to move to 75% retention. We need to decide what the distribution system should be. If Westminster Council, for example, keeps 75% of its rate support, it will be awash with money, whereas a council in the north that keeps 75% will be in severe shortage. The councils need to know. As the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon says, it is only fair that the funding system for councils both for next year and the year after are made very clear fairly soon.

The other side of the coin is that the Government have a target for building 300,000 more homes each year. Councils will be able to do that only if they are properly incentivised by the council tax system. They need to be able to work out what that system is going to be. As part of the local government finance reorganisation, what will the incentives be for councils that want to expand their council tax base, as with the incentives to expand their business rate base? Again, the Government need to make some decisions on this. They need to tell us whether the new homes bonus will remain, and in what form, to give councils that incentive.

This is a huge field. I think I have cantered over some of the main areas, and others will do the same.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Lindsay Hoyle)
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I remind the House that I have been told that there is an informal eight-minute limit. If we can stick to that, we will help everybody.

--- Later in debate ---
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Lindsay Hoyle)
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Order. I do not want us to get into too much of a debate on fracking. I recognise that it has an impact, but the danger is that we will end up with Members on both sides just discussing fracking.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I will absolutely take your steer on this, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The key point that I was coming to, without getting too generic about it, is that we do not yet know the outcome of the consultation that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government ran last year on loosening the planning rules around permitted development and the national significant infrastructure project. I would be very keen to see that outcome. We can discuss my wider concerns about fracking at another time, but I really hope that we can determine that this will not go ahead, because in communities such as mine, it is not wanted.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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I do not want to upset Mr Deputy Speaker, but this is a very relevant issue, because fracking is part of local planning policy. Can I invite both my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake)—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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Can I help by saying that I still make the decisions? I do not want this to descend into a debate purely about fracking. It can be referred to in passing, of course, and I recognise the planning implications, but I do not want to get into a full-blown debate on fracking. I will still make the decisions.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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I certainly do not want to debate the matter with you, Mr Deputy Speaker, because you are obviously in the right, but I would just like to invite my hon. Friends to my constituency. I do not believe that fracking will industrialise the countryside. Some 90% of my constituency is covered by petroleum exploration and development licences, and fracking is perfectly compatible with current gas exploration in my constituency. Please come and see it.