Tag Archives: Northern Powerhouse

Jo Cox: George Osborne’s perfect storm to batter North

Published today by the Yorkshire Post

In one fell swoop, the Chancellor has created a perfect storm for Northern councils. It is one that many of our local authorities will struggle to withstand.

In spite of George Osborne’s rhetoric, his Autumn Statement missed an opportunity for real and meaningful fiscal devolution to local authorities. Instead, he offered two traps that will impact every corner of the North.

First, the local government grant, which provides the largest component of council funding, will be scrapped. Councils will instead retain all of the business rates that they raise.

Although welcome in principle, without a built-in redistributive element it’s hard to see how this will do anything other than reinforce existing inequalities between North and South.

The current system takes account of local circumstances and ensures a fairer distribution of funds from central government. Remove Whitehall from the equation completely and we’re left facing a Darwinian nightmare where the strongest, richest councils will survive and prosper, while the rest, and more importantly the vulnerable people they care for, are left out in the cold.

In the case of Kirklees, my own council, the funding gap left by these changes is estimated at more than £30m annually. In comparison, Westminster Council’s budget will increase 10-fold.

We urgently need to know how the redistributive safeguards hinted at by the Government will work otherwise Northern councils could be left with a huge funding shortfall.

Secondly, the Chancellor has given councils the power to raise council tax by two per cent for social care. The Government estimates that this will raise £2bn by 2020 – a figure dwarfed by the Local Government Association’s estimate that the funding gap for adult social care will have hit a staggering £7.9bn by then.

In addition, the Institute for Fiscal Studies says there is no way the Government can actually guarantee money raised from this precept be spent on social care, while the Social Market Foundation’s warning is more stark. They say that the social care precept will mean plenty of additional resources for councils in the South, but much less for many councils in the North.

Councils with higher elderly populations and high, complex adult social care needs will suffer disproportionately. Disparities in health, age and need are being disregarded.

For Kirklees, the two per cent precept would raise just £2.8m a year. Overall, the council estimates that the consequences of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement will be an overall cut of 20 to 30 per cent by 2017. This is on top of the cuts of that they have had to cope with since 2010.

Councils in the most deprived areas with the greatest social care needs will raise less than a third of more affluent areas. Those who rely most on the government funding will be least able to meet the needs they have through council tax rises. If you want to exacerbate the crisis in social care, this is how to do it.

There is also a broader problem that this policy does not confront.

The Conservative MP and GP Sarah Woollaston, chairman of the Health Select Committee, says we cannot have the Government’s seven-day NHS without ensuring social care is properly funded. In fact, she says, the fate of the NHS rests with social care. The link between the two is crucial and the two need to be treated on equal terms. Wrap around care, addressing delays with discharges from hospitals and tackling bed blocking are all dependent on a system of social care that is fit to cope.

Rather than pinning council tax increases on local authorities, the Government need to take positive action to fund and plan for social care for the next several decades.

Both these polices are traps for Northern councils and are part of a package of devolution that ties one hand behind our backs. These are not good deals as currently devised – especially for councils with a low tax base and high needs. Councils will be forced to take further difficult choices about cuts to vital local services, raise council tax or most likely do both.

I hope the intent that we can see in the Chancellor’s latest devolution offer serves as a stark warning to all of those in Yorkshire who are working towards meaningful devolution. And there is the challenge for those of us who care deeply about devolution: we have to find a way to make this work – in spite of George Osborne.

Jo Cox is Labour MP for Batley & Spen and a member of the Communities and Local Government select committee.

Cautious welcome for news electrification back on track

First TransPennine ExpressFollowing news of the Government u-turn on electrification of the Transpennine rail line, Batley & Spen MP Jo Cox, who led demands for the project to be reinstated, said:

“I am delighted that the government has finally bowed to pressure and reinstated the commitment to rail electrification for the Transpennine line. However the battle is not yet won.

“This announcement, although welcome, still represents a long delay on the original plan. I hope this is not a drop kick into the long grass for a much needed investment, with more pauses to come.

“Also I would still like to see more, such as a move to increase capacity and have a proper plan to get rid of inadequate Pacers.”

Mrs Cox tabled a Parliamentary motion demanding the Government reinstate the electrification plans.

June column: The “Northern Powerhouse”

Jo Cox writes a column every month for the Batley News and Spenborough Guardian. This is the column for June, published in both newspapers this week.

It is both exhilarating and humbling to speak for the first time in the House of Commons. The magnitude of the occasion and the tremendous honour of representing my home in such a historic chamber is something that I will treasure forever.

Aside from all of the pomp and ceremony for me, first and foremost Parliament is a place of work, and the job that needs doing is an important one.

That is why when I rose to make my maiden speech earlier this month I decided to devote it to our local and regional economy. I was quite surprised by how few Conservative members were in the chamber for such an important economic debate, especially considering how vociferous some of them are about Labour taking the economy seriously.

Well, I take our economy seriously.

The so called “Northern Powerhouse” was announced by the Government with much fanfare but little detail. Get beyond the mildly patronising language and you have what could easily be a good idea. But that’s all it is, an idea. And a big concern is that this is actually all about Manchester and not the north at all.

Addressing the north-south divide and its economic and social differences is essential for businesses and families in Yorkshire. But that divide must be bridged, not simply redrawn. The north as a whole must benefit not just one city. More importantly, for Batley and Spen this agenda has to have at its centre a commitment to connect towns and villages in constituencies like this one to thriving city hubs like Leeds, and to deliver a financial offer in the forthcoming Budget that gives us a real chance of success.

We’re not fools: talk about devolving power to cities and regions, while simultaneously stripping them of the resources to deliver and subjecting northern councils like Kirklees to the harshest of cuts, is not compatible with a worthy commitment to building a northern powerhouse to drive growth and prosperity.

During the election, and more so since, I have spoken with many local businesses from every corner of the constituency and they were clear that confidence is key. Confidence to expand, to borrow, to grow; and the confidence to fuel a real economic recovery that benefits everybody, offering decent jobs, paying decent wages and bridging the skills gap.

Local businesses want the skills mismatch that leaves employers with staff shortages and young people without jobs addressed. They want access to reliable sources of finance and to connect to a regional infrastructure that works.

Any benefits must also filter down to our town centres, their prosperity is crucial to our local economy. This is why I am working with traders in Batley and Heckmondwike to put together a vision for each and why I plan to hold further talks with traders in Cleckheaton and Birstall.

As I told Parliament in my maiden speech, Batley and Spen has more manufacturing jobs than the national average. We make things and I am proud of that. I want Britain and the world to be just as proud as I am of the things we make in Yorkshire.

This column was written before the Government announced plans to shelve its pre-election promise to electrify the Transpennine rail route. Click here for more.

Parliamentary Question – HM Treasury

Productivity

Jo Cox MP: According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, if productivity growth per worker was closer to 4%, our national debt would be around £350 billion lower by the end of this Parliament. The OECD confirmed that continued weak productivity could lead to a higher than expected budget deficit. Why does the Minister not realise that his failures on productivity explain why we are doing so badly on bringing down the deficit?

Read the minister’s reply here.