At the end of last year the government published its funding plans for local councils over the next two years. Unfortunately, it made grim reading for the north east. Under the plans Sunderland will be hit by a 22% reduction in overall revenue spending power. That’s £576 per household less that Sunderland City Council will have to spend on providing essential services, social care and supporting the most vulnerable people in our community. A startling figure especially as the average nationally is £300 per household.
One reason why local councils in the poorest areas are being hit hardest is because of the government has skewed the funding system. In the past, it took account of the fact that councils in areas of high deprivation spend more on social care provision and are unable to raise as much through council tax and business rates when compared to affluent areas. Since 1993 there has been a recognition that councils with greater demands on their services need additional support from central government. But that’s changing and the latest settlement will cut this measure by 25%, meaning Sunderland’s grant will be reduced by £9.3million over the coming two years.
The government’s policies are reinforcing inequality and widening the north-south divide. We know that signs of economic recovery are not being felt in the same way in the north east. We still have the highest level of unemployment in the country, a chronic problem of youth unemployment and working people worse off due to falling wages. We need a government willing to work with us, not against us. Economic recovery needs to be balanced and enjoyed by all regions of our country. But once again, these measures show that ministers are wielding the axe in a disproportionate and fundamentally unfair way. Britain’s top ten most deprived councils will suffer the biggest cuts while some of the most affluent areas will actually see their budgets increase. That doesn’t sound like “we’re all in this together” to me.
After Labour tabled an amendment to the Children and Families Bill, MPs in Westminster backed proposals to ban smoking in cars when children are present. I voted for this change in the law. I believe that whilst adults can make an informed choice about smoking, children have the right not to be exposed to second hand smoke in a confined space. This will protect children from the damaging effects of passive smoking and will be a step forward for children’s health. The Health Secretary now has a duty to bring forward regulations and make this a reality as soon as possible.