Councils are ‘fire fighting from budget to budget’ due to cuts and changes

Jo Cox speaking in the debate on local government fundingCouncils are fire fighting from budget to budget due to government cuts and changes to the way they are funded.

This was the message from Batley & Spen MP Jo Cox during a debate in Parliament on local government funding yesterday afternoon.

Mrs Cox, who is a member of the Communities and Local Government select committee, was critical about the lack of firm details and future funding plans as well as constant rumours about new responsibilities being delegated to town halls, but with no new funding.

She told MPs and ministers: “When councils simultaneously face rumours about huge new services, such as the attendance allowance or public health, for which they may be expected to take responsibility over the same timeline, they are left with no security in their financial planning.

“The reality is that many councils have very little room left for long-term financial planning. My council tells me that it is firefighting from budget to budget without long-term certainty, and that it will be 2.5% worse off in 2020 than today, compared with national average cuts of about 0.5%.

“That figure does not seem very big, but it is about the size of the entire libraries budget, and let us not forget that it comes on top of incredibly severe cuts over the past four years that mean that Kirklees Council will be spending about 15% less than it spent in 2010.

“I do not believe that anyone becomes a councillor to cut local library services by 32%, to cut children’s music services by 94%, to remove £700,000 from the budget to cut grass or to completely scrap community events and festivals, which is what is happening in Kirklees.

“Many of my constituents are feeling the even sharper end of council cuts to adult social care and other important services. My fear is that the Government wants to blame local councillors.”

Mrs Cox went on to tell MPs that a family living in a £70,000 terraced house in Batley will now be getting £60 less per family member in council services than they did in 2010, but families living in a £2 million home in Oxfordshire will be getting £50 more per family member.

“That seems blatantly unfair, and my constituents struggle to understand it,” she said. “That disparity in core spending power over the course of this Parliament is staggering and seems to be growing. For councillors such as mine in Kirklees, it does not feel like we are all in this together.”

The comments here are taken from a speech in Westminster Hall made yesterday afternoon. Time limits imposed on the debate meant Mrs Cox’s speech was cut short but you can read the full debate here.

Jo Cox: Five lessons Yorkshire must learn on devolution

The report into devolutionJo Cox wrote this piece in today’s Yorkshire Post to coincide with the publication of a report on devolution by the Communities and Local Government select committee, of which she is a member.

BRITAIN is one of the most centralised countries in the world. While local and regional authorities in Germany and France control up to 80 per cent of government spending, 72 per cent of all UK public expenditure is directly controlled by David Cameron and his ministers in Whitehall. This is not only bad for democracy, it’s inefficient and stifles local innovation and regional growth.

The devolution deals under discussion up and down the country, not least here in the North, offer a rare chance to secure meaningful reform that could radically alter our economic, political and constitutional landscape for years to come. This is a huge opportunity for Yorkshire and I’m a firm believer that shifting power from Whitehall – and closer to the people it affects – is a good thing. But it has to be something we get right.

To date, the Governments record is mixed: we’ve had welcome prominence given to this agenda but there’s been a heavy dose of hyperbole and lots of inconsistency.

It is sadly telling that in the same week that my Select Committee publishes a new report on devolution the Government announced the closure their much lauded ‘northern powerhouse’ office in Sheffield and moved all the jobs to London. And while the Chancellor talks of devolving power, we are seeing more schools taken out of local control to be managed by Whitehall and the Government’s Housing Bill includes dozens of new centralising measures.

What’s clear is that Government policy on this issue is hugely significant for the Yorkshire economy and potentially could have a beneficial impact on people and businesses in constituencies such as mine.

However, there are five key areas of concern.

Firstly, the devolution deals in the pipeline should be the starting point, not the destination. They should be a first step towards a much more ambitious transfer of powers and responsibilities out from Whitehall. Devolution should now be the default setting across all Government departments.

Secondly, there needs to be far better engagement with the public to get this right. Consulting people about a deal after that deal has been struck is too late. Devolution is a huge, constitutional shift. It will reverberate massively on the economics and politics of the areas in question. Communities will see new structures, have new responsibilities and in some places, new elected mayors.

People need to understand what is happening, why and who will be responsible for what. Ultimately, they should see how these changes will benefit them and have a chance to shape them.

Thirdly, fiscal devolution is not on the table. It should be. While some of the proposals do represent a seismic change to the way local authorities are funded – for example 100 per cent retention of the growth in business rates and a new social care precept – the detail remains troublingly scant and it is clear the headline announcement belies the complexity and uncertainty this change brings.

There are huge benefits for some authorities but the potential for great risk for others. Why not be bold? Give councils the means to nurture economic growth, improve productivity and become more sustainable.

They need funding settlements to help them plan, not worry about where their funding will come from in four years. Instead of half measures the Government should be looking at handing down powers to raise revenue, vary business rates or add higher and lower council tax bands.

Fourthly, the Government has been vague in setting out clear, measurable objectives on their devolution agenda. Without this, it is almost impossible to judge success or failure. I worry also that many of the Government’s objectives are not aligned with those of local authorities. To correct this there should be far better engagement, clear goals, more transparency and mechanisms to monitor and assess progress.

And finally, this transfer of power does not – and should not stop – with institutions of government. It should be filtering right down to our communities and citizens. Swapping decision- making in one room full of politicians and civil servants in Whitehall to a different room full of politicians and civil servants in a town hall is not good enough.

We must find new ways to hand power to members of communities, workers on the frontline and those who use the services being provided. Open the process up to local people, trust them and allow them to participate in decision-making and scrutiny and perhaps start to rebuild faith and confidence in politics and in government.

Devolution should not be cover for the devolution of cuts or the delegation of powers. It has to be real and meaningful if our region, local businesses and the economy are to reap the potential rewards. To do this we must be bold and not let this chance pass us by.

You can read the report by clicking here or the image at the top of this article

Kirklees MPs unite over threats to local A&E departments

Jo Cox speaking in the HRI debateJo Cox yesterday joined Kirklees’s other three MPs to debate the proposals to close the A&E at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and the consequences this will have across Kirklees.

In particular she raised the implications for her constituents in Batley & Spen.

The debate in Parliament, which you can watch here, was secured by Colne Valley MP Jason McCartney and included contributions from Dewsbury’s Paula Sherriff and Huddersfield’s Barry Sheerman.

Mrs Cox said: “The proposed reorganisation, which would leave Huddersfield without an A&E, is being done under the rationale that there will be no change of provision in the other half of Kirklees district.

“However, the diminution of services at Dewsbury & District hospital, which sits within my constituency, is a significant change—not least for the A&E, which is a key service for local constituents in neighbouring Dewsbury and elsewhere.”

She said this was an ’embarrassing oversight’ with the potential to leave the eleventh largest district in England without a fully functioning A&E and that this was not in the public interest.

Mrs Cox went on to add: “It seems as though there is a lack of regional oversight about the implications of both this public consultation and what is happening at Dewsbury & District hospital.

“We have raised that issue directly with the Minister, and I raised it with the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust last Friday to ask who holds responsibility for the pan-Kirklees, pan-Yorkshire, strategy, to make sure that none of our constituents loses out from these individual public consultations and reconfigurations. It would be very helpful if the Minister focused on that oversight.”

The Batley & Spen MP also raised the lack of a coherent, integrated transport assessment of all the reconfigurations across Kirklees.

“Many of our constituents are on low incomes and rely on public transport. With congested roads, moving people around is not easy. I am not reassured that either trust has looked fully at the transport implications of these reorganisations and what they will mean for our constituents.”

MP defends her home town from ‘baseless and bizarre attack’

Jo Cox at Batley Station, photo courtesy of the Reporter SeriesBatley & Spen’s Member of Parliament has defended her home town from accusations that it is one of the 10 least integrated communities in the country.

Jo Cox said that Policy Exchange’s assertion that Batley was in its top ten least integrated places was baseless and bizarre.

Mrs Cox said: “Batley is a great town, I’m proud to have been born here and I’m even prouder to represent it in Parliament.

“This Policy Exchange ‘press release’ lacks detail or reasoning. I’ve asked for more information about how they came to their conclusions but they’ve suddenly become rather tight-lipped.

“I have a strong suspicion that no one involved in this report has ever been to Batley. These are bizarre and baseless generalisations that show a dearth of understanding on every level.

“If they had visited our resilient town they could have met the Batley Poets and seen the great work that local white and Asian people are doing together. Or they could have visited local charities such as Royal Voluntary Service where volunteers from all backgrounds are supporting and helping each other every day.

“Integration is not about bricks and mortar, nor what streets people live on. No one has the power to dictate where people live and it’s ridiculous to suggest local councillors should effectively be engaged in social engineering.

“Integration and community cohesion is a challenge but they come gradually, and through consent. It is very unhelpful to make baseless generalisations from a very narrow reading of five year old census data.”

When Mrs Cox asked for evidence to back up their research, Policy Exchange declined to offer anything further. They did provide an email address for the report’s author, but messages returned undeliverable.

MPs meet Health minister about DDH downgrade

Jo Cox and Paula Sherriff at Dewsbury & District HospitalMPs Paula Sherriff and Jo Cox met with Health Minister Ben Gummer last night to raise concerns about plans to downgrade Dewsbury & District Hospital.

Reconfiguration plans by Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust would see services centralised at Pinderfields and include the downgrade of Dewsbury’s A&E, which would cease to be consultant-led.

The meeting at the Department of Health was secured by the Labour MPs after news emerged that the Trust wanted to bring its plans forward by 12 months.

Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff, a former health worker and member of the Health select committee, said:

“This is the first time any Health minister has met local MPs to discuss the planned downgrade of Dewsbury & District Hospital and it was a very productive and positive meeting.

“The minister listened to all the concerns Jo and I raised. He has promised to convene a further meeting with us and the leaders of the Trust so that he can visit and assess for himself what is happening with this reconfiguration and ensure there is no adverse impact on our constituents.”

Batley & Spen MP Jo Cox, who was born at the hospital at Staincliffe, said:

“Paula and I know how much this issue worries and upsets everyone who relies on our hospital. This meeting gave us the chance to raise our concerns about many aspects of the reconfiguration and downgrade – including the way it is being rolled out and serious concerns about a vacuum of leadership.

“If the downgrade fails we want assurances from the minister that he will step in and this meeting suggests we have taken the first steps towards achieving that.”

Miss Sherriff and Mrs Cox raised concerns about:

  • The roll out of the reconfiguration and Closer to Home agenda, the implications of the downgrade and the accelerated process.
  • Losing the CCG chief executive to retirement at the same time as the Trust chief exec goes part time to split his time with a Trust in Cumbria.
  • Lack of regional planning and joined up thinking, and the potential knock on effect from the proposed closure of the A&E at Hudderfield Royal Infirmary.
  • The risk of further, future reconfiguration.
  • Communication with the public and patients about the impact of the changes, including the need for tailored, interactive workshops in individual neighbourhoods.
  • Transport, including the challenges Yorkshire Ambulance Service face.