Created: 08 February 2012
Recognising local governments’ need for financial security, Bob stated the need for three-year settlements that allow local authorities to plan ahead and prepare and welcomed improvements in the current settlement during the second year.
Bob welcomed plans to freeze council tax across many local authorities and called on those that are yet to decide to grasp this opportunity to lower bills for households.
Before the last election, everyone knew that local government finance would be substantially reduced. It was in the Labour party manifesto and in the Conservative party manifesto. Everyone knew that it was coming. Every local authority, regardless of its political persuasion, should have planned for those reductions and should therefore have implemented them over the past two years. A series of measures could be undertaken including tackling executive pay. At a time when local authority funding is decreasing, it is right that senior executive pay in local authorities reduces. Bob paid tribute to Harrow Council’s Chief Executive who is cutting his own pay. He is cutting the number of senior executives and their pay, and he has introduced a system of pay within the local authority which means that the workers on the ground will be paid the same hourly rate regardless of when they work, but they will work a normal working week.
Bob called on every local authority to question whether they are using their procurement capability properly? Have they joined with other local authorities to procure services, such as adult social care, using their buying power instead of competing one on one for the private sector services that are available? Have they shared their services across the various councils that operate within their area? Bob lamented that very few local authorities have done that.
Bob then drew the House’s attention to the issue of outsourcing. The vast majority of councils handle a multitude of grant applications and applications for different services, yet that information is input for every single service, so we have a multiplicity of inputs coming from the most needy families. That means that we employ in local government far too many people to repeat the handling of those cases. Those services should be simplified so that the vulnerable in society supply their data only once and then benefit from whatever services the local authority provides.
Bob made clear his objection to councils taking money from council tax payers and putting it into reserves or balances rather than spending it on services and investing in the local community. Local authorities should maintain balances, but only balances that are required for cash-flow purposes or for funding in-year hikes that might take place.
Bob welcomed a situation where house building leads to a new homes bonus, so local authorities will be rewarded for building houses and will receive finance as a result. Under the business rate retention scheme, local authorities will be encouraged to promote employment and job opportunities, so we will have an enterprise-led economy, encouraged by local authorities, and the onus will be on enterprise and not on deprivation.
Bob concluded by reflecting on what has happened in London this year. He applauded the fact that, after three years of council tax freezes under Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London is reducing—reducing!—his share of the council tax, not only ensuring that we have 1,000 extra police officers on the beat, but reducing crime and improving services to Londoners overall. He compared that with the record of Ken Livingstone, who over eight years increased his share of the council tax by 152%. The comparison could not be starker.
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