On Feb 8 news was going the rounds that a Tory rebellion was on the cards over the local government financial settlement – i.e. the latest round of savage cuts.
Enough Tories were threatening to vote against; the slim Government majority was in peril.
Then, as if by magic, from the back of the political sofa, extra funds appeared – but not for everyone.
The Tory Government announced £300m of additional funding to help local authorities adjust to cuts to their Government grant funding.
But guess what – 83% of the new money given to ease the transition was to go to Tory councils.
Leeds, which is facing a £35m reduction next year, will not see a penny of the money.
The biggest gainers were Surrey (gains £24.1m), Hampshire (gains £18.6m) and Hertfordshire (gains £15.6m).
There was no money at all for the poorest areas of the country – and that included none for Leeds.
The news has been greeted with anger by the Leader of Leeds City Council.
Councillor Judith Blake said:
“The vast majority of councils that benefit are rural “shire” authorities in the South of England. Urban authorities and the North fare particularly badly, which is hugely concerning given the fact that Leeds saw a cut of £180m between 2010 and 2015, with a further £35m to come next year.
As with the way flood defence and transport infrastructure funding is allocated, it really beggars belief the way the Government has gone about distributing this additional money for vital council services.”
Judith is not alone in her reaction.
Jim McMahon MP for Oldham spoke of a ‘friends and family discount’ for Tory councils.
Nick Forbes Labour group leader of the Local Government Association called it ‘jaw-dropping favouritism’.
Joe Anderson, mayor of Liverpool, was blunt – it’s a ‘Tory slush fund’.
In the debate at Westminster Labour’s Steve Reed described the distribution of the transitional money as ‘grossly unfair’ and ‘a political bung’
“What is really worrying is that the Secretary of State does not seem to understand what is really going on in councils and in public services across the country.
Even Tory MPs were terrified of what voters would make of all this, and they threatened to vote it down. On Monday this week, the Secretary of State came to the Chamber with a fix to head off the rebellion. He announced he had found £300 million down the back of a sofa—he would not tell us where it had come from—and then handed nearly all of it to the wealthiest Tory councils as a sweetener just weeks before the council elections. Some 85% of the money will go to Tory-run areas and barely 5% to Labour-run areas, despite the fact that those Labour areas have suffered far bigger cuts since 2010. Whatever happened to the one nation Tories? What about the northern powerhouse? If the word gerrymander did not already exist, we would have to invent it to describe a fix like this.’
Gerrymandering, a slush fund, a political bung – and it worked: it bought off Tory rebellion.
The Government won the vote to impose the cuts in the local government financial settlement – by 315 to 209.
For the record:
Leeds Labour MPs – Rachel Reeves, Richard Burgon, Hilary Benn, Fabian Hamilton – all voted against the cuts
Leeds Tory MPs – Alec Shelbrooke, Andrea Jenkyns and Stuart Andrew – all voted for them.
Leeds LibDem MP – Greg Mulholland – is not recorded as having voted at all.
As we’ve reported before, the settlement imposed on Leeds is poised to cut deep into essential services, public health and adult care provision.
As the cuts bite ever harder, the people of Leeds won’t forget how their MPs voted.