8 February 2023
Aldous calls for change to local government funding formula to reflect needs of coastal communities

Speaking in a debate on the local government funding settlement Peter Aldous calls on the Government to offer multi-year settlements in future to enable long-term planning, highlights the problems of rural areas and coastal communities, and calls for the funding formula to be adjusted to better reflect needs of coastal communities.

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)

In challenging circumstances, the Government have come up with proposals that are broadly acceptable and will enable local government, on the whole, to function properly and to deliver a wide range of services for the benefit of local communities. This is vitally important, because it is local government that best understands the needs of local people and is best able to ensure that funding delivers the benefits for which it is intended. There are some drawbacks to the settlement, which I shall briefly outline; and there is also the need to carry out that much-needed review of the funding formula, about which we have already heard and which, indeed, has been talked about throughout my 13 years in the House.

Sally-Ann Hart (Hastings and Rye) (Con)

As a member of the all-party parliamentary group on coastal communities, my hon. Friend will be well aware of a report by Pragmatix Advisory that draws attention to the need to change the local government funding formula to better reflect deprivation and the needs of coastal communities with strategic, long-term, sustainable funding, and to see projects to the end. Does he agree that the Department must consider that as we move forward?

Peter Aldous 

The short answer is that my hon. Friend has a crystal ball, because she has anticipated the conclusion of my speech, and we have been reading the same report.

In the circumstances, as we have heard, some might liken this settlement to a sticking plaster, but I would suggest that it resembles a bandage more, and that in itself reinforces the need for a fundamental overhaul.

Let me now comment briefly on the settlement’s drawbacks, which the Government should seek to ensure are not repeated next year. First, as others have said, this is the fifth one-year settlement in a row. Such short-termism makes it very difficult for councils to plan properly, to deliver world-class local services, and to fully implement key policies such as levelling up. I therefore urge the Government to come forward with a multi-year settlement next year. We have heard that they have made a start, but let them finish delivering that particular strategy.

Secondly, as we have heard, rural areas continue to get a raw deal, notwithstanding the fact that wages in those areas are invariably lower, the cost of living is higher, and it is much more expensive to deliver services. In this context, it is very disappointing that the increase in the rural services delivery grant has been wiped out for rural district authorities, as it is linked to another grant which reduces by equal measures. That makes it more difficult for authorities such as east Suffolk to deliver vital services such as waste collection, recycling and planning. I suggest that next year, the existing formula should be applied in full, without dampening.

Thirdly, the additional funding for children’s social care will help to tackle the most immediate pressures, but it is insufficient to invest in preventive and early help services, nor to invest in the workforce or additional homes needed for children in care. Moreover, it falls short of the £1.6 billion required simply to maintain current service levels. As I have mentioned, there is a need to review the local government funding formula. One of several reasons that the review remains outstanding is that the debate on whether it should take place, and what changes should be made, has been conducted in a way that pits rural communities against urban communities. The result is stalemate—nothing happens, to the detriment of areas where a better funding formula is urgently required. As we have heard, nowhere is that more needed than in coastal communities all around England and the UK, including in the constituency that I represent.

Coastal communities such as Lowestoft face significant challenges: a higher proportion of children living in workless households; household incomes £3,000 on average per annum lower than elsewhere; disabled people less likely to find work; people facing greater health challenges and inequalities, including shorter life expectancy, obesity and higher rates of depression. Those challenges are exacerbated by the fact that in coastal areas, funding must go further and stretch that extra mile. There is a higher cost of delivering services: the population is much older, and in the holiday season there is a need to provide services for visitors.

It should also be pointed out that there is enormous potential in coastal communities that properly funded local government services can help unlock. That includes jobs in the low-carbon energy sector, sustainable fishing and leisure and staycations. Therefore, the local government funding formula must be urgently adjusted to better reflect the needs of coastal communities. I urge the Government to commit to doing that straightaway, so that for 2024-25, coastal communities that have been forgotten for far too long finally get that fair deal that they need.