Priti calls on Government to fund councils in Essex
Witham MP Priti Patel has called on the Government to look at rebalancing resources towards local councils in Essex during a debate on local authority funding in Parliament [15 January 2019]. During the debate Priti commended the innovation seen in local councils and highlighted the demographic pressures facing Essex County Council pushing up costs. Priti said:
“Our local councils deliver important local services to residents across Essex every day. Over the last decade the way they have been funded by central government has changed and it is important that they get the funding support they need to provide services for adults and children and invest in key infrastructure.”
“Later this year there will be new reforms announced to local government funding and I am pressing the Government to ensure that they listen carefully to the views from councils in Essex.”
Copy of Priti’s speech:
Hansard, 15 January 2019, columns 332WH to 334WH
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate and to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) on securing this debate, and I thank her for her remarks. It is fair to say that she has covered a full gamut of aspects of local government. Like her, I pay tribute to the many thousands of councillors up and down the country who work tirelessly in their community as public servants, delivering some very difficult portfolios and in some very challenging parts of the country. At this time of year, councils across the country are in the process of finalising their budgets for the next financial year, which is why the hon. Lady’s debate is so timely.
My constituency covers three lower-tier authorities—Braintree District Council, Colchester Borough Council and Maldon District Council—as well as an upper-tier authority, which is Essex County Council. I pay tribute to all my colleagues at all the authorities, particularly Essex County Council, who are faced with a number of pressures, including growing demand on services—it is a theme that no doubt we will hear throughout the debate—and the overall impact of the Government’s financial settlements on them and on councils across the country. My colleagues at Essex County Council work very well with the Local Government Association, which has campaigned clearly and robustly on areas where more needs to be done. There is always scope for innovation, efficiency and transformation. Naturally, these local councils look to central Government to provide more certainty on the future of their finances and the level of support they receive from the Government.
Does the hon. Lady accept that one way central Government give certainty is by letting authorities that had the benefit of the retention of business rates know what the Government’s plans for the future are? At the moment, it is very uncertain.
I will touch on business rates later. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and councils need to be getting on with their own plans.
With the comprehensive spending review taking place later this year, rate reform and the fair funding review—I know the Minister is well aware of this—the Government have the opportunity to consider carefully the various submissions and representations from local authorities. Compared with other local areas, we are underfunded in Essex not just through local government, but through our police and health services. I very much hope that the Minister and the Government will be sympathetic and understanding, and that they will use this as an opportunity to rebalance resources towards our county, particularly our county council, which has the responsibility for adults and children. Essex County Council is experiencing considerable budgetary pressures, which the Government will know about from the various representations that my colleagues across the county and I have constantly made to the Department.
Essex faces significant financial challenges in adult social care, which accounted for 45% of the council’s total spend from a budget of £646 million in 2017-18. The council is collecting over £82 million in fees and charges from residents, but budgets are being squeezed and it already faces demographic pressures and challenges. The number of people aged over 80 is set to grow over the next decade by 61%, and those over 90 by 100%. The council is facing rising costs as it seeks to provide support to around 4,000 residents with learning disabilities, including cases that are very complex to resolve. Its objective is to provide those residents and all citizens with a good quality of life.
On top of those pressures, provider costs for care packages are increasing while the supply of beds and residential accommodation by providers is falling. Some 362 beds were lost to the market in 2018 as seven care homes closed, and contracts from domiciliary providers have been handed back. These are continuous pressures on funding social care. We know that money has been put aside for social care, which is of course welcome, but it is not meeting the growing pressures and demands in Essex and around the country, too.
I hope to work with the Government and my councils to look at how we can constructively address these pressures and constraints. The council faces pressures on education and special needs in addition to social care. I appreciate that this issue rests primarily with the Department for Education, but resources are being squeezed and I have many concerns. I have a vast number of constituents coming to me, and it is pretty clear that their needs, challenges and concerns are not being met in the way that we as a Government would like. The council has been proactive in its own representations to Ministers, and I very much look forward to the Government working with it.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston made a strong and important point on public health. Across the country—I see this in Essex—we are seeing pressures on public health. We can do much more to prevent many of the pressures on A&E, our hospitals and GP surgeries. One of the greatest challenges that we face, which relates directly to planning, is that the population of my constituency, and the number of houses, is growing. We have to meet those challenges by ensuring that the right kind of support goes into public health and infrastructure provision, so that we can get a new health centre for primary care in Witham and invest in our roads and in other aspects of local amenities and public services, too.
I come back to the point on education. When the provisional settlement was announced last month, Essex County Council was very keen to ensure that it was part of the pilot round for local business rates. It was pretty disappointed not to be, and I make a plea to the Minister for some kind of reconsideration or to ensure that Essex features in future schemes.
Essex is a county that constantly innovates. We want to strive for excellence while delivering value for money and meeting our service requirements to deliver to the public. There are endless pressures. Across the county of Essex, there are some big challenges that we want to work on with central Government to look for innovative solutions and ideas about how we can address many of those concerns.