Newcastle MP slams Conservative bias over Council cuts

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11 Feb 2016
Labour MP Paul Farrelly has accused the government of blatant bias after it handed hundreds of millions of pounds to some of the wealthiest Conservative councils to ease the pain of spending cuts – but offered nothing to Labour-run local authorities like Newcastle and Stoke.

The Newcastle MP’s intervention came in a heated debate yesterday in Parliament after the government this week found £300m ‘from down the back of a sofa’ to help stave off a Tory rebellion over the latest local government cuts.

While Labour councils received not a penny, leafy Surrey – one of England’s wealthiest shires – topped the hand-out list with £24m, despite suffering far fewer cuts since the austerity onslaught against local councils started in 2010.

The top six councils on the list, indeed – all Conservative-run, including Hampshire, Hertfordshire. Essex, West Sussex and Kent – gained £96m, almost a third of the entire pot. The first Labour-held Council to get anything, meanwhile - Derbyshire with only £2.3m to ease the pain – stood 37th on the government’s pecking order.

Speaking in a packed House of Commons, Mr Farrelly said: “My county of Staffordshire does at least makes the ‘transitional grant’ list at No.18, with just £5.6 million. Next door to me, deprived Stoke-on-Trent gets nothing, against £24.1 million for Surrey. Why, in this ‘battle of the S’s’, does the south, as ever, win out?”.

‘There’s nothing for Newcastle-under-Lyme, nothing for Stoke and nothing for Birmingham. Yet within other well-rewarded southern counties, Conservative districts have benefitted, too – like St Albans, Sevenoaks, and Surrey Heath – well-off names to conjure with. Is this right or fair?,’ he asked Local Government Secretary Greg Clark.

Despite repeated questions, ministers also refused to say where the extra money is coming from, leading to accusations from the Labour benches that it had, indeed, been plucked from the ‘back of Chancellor George Osborne’s sofa’ to appease his Tory critics.

Analysis carried out by Labour’s front bench shows that £255 million of the grant – 85% – goes to Conservative councils. Labour-run councils, meanwhile, receive just £17 million, despite suffering the harshest cuts and having higher levels of deprivation.

Speaking after the debate, Mr Farrelly added: “Forking out money to the wealthiest areas, whilst neglecting those with the greatest need, is an appalling allocation of public money.”

“People are rightly concerned about where this money’s coming from and why almost all of it is being handed to Conservative councils just weeks before elections across the country.’

In the latest four year Local Government Settlement, Newcastle’s ‘Revenue Support Grant’ from Whitehall has been cuts to £1.8 million for 2016/17 and will dwindle to almost nothing by 2019/20, necessitating further cuts to local services and almost certainly Council tax rises.

Staffordshire County Council, meanwhile, will receive a reduced £64.3m in 2016/17, falling to just £10.7m in 2019/20, with which it has to support vital services like education, social care, roads and transport, and libraries.

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