On 18th November 2014, Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton askedHer Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of cuts in funding to local authorities in the most deprived and least deprived areas of England. The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a supplementary question:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, the dedicated funding for local welfare provision has been vital in providing a net for some of the most vulnerable in society. It is proposed that this will no longer be ring-fenced but will be part of a general grant to local councils, at a time when their budgets are increasingly pressed—indeed, there may be a move for that money to be used for core statutory services in future. If that money is not to be ring-fenced, will the Minister tell us how Her Majesty’s Government will monitor the effects of these changes and whether they will be willing to report back to your Lordships’ House on them, to ensure that the most vulnerable are not even further disadvantaged?
Baroness Williams of Trafford: The right reverend Prelate makes a good point. The ring-fenced funding pots were not always used for their intended purposes. It is the Government’s belief that in devolving funds straight to local authorities they will make the best use of them. I shall follow up the right reverend Prelate’s question on reporting back—I am sure that we can report back in due course.
..without some risk, innovation and courage in this area, local government will continue to be starved not only of cash but of the civic talent it desperately needs – Bishop of Leicester, 5/6/14
On 5th June 2014 in the first of the responses from the Bishops’ Benches to the Queen’s Speech, Rt Rev Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester focused on the need for revitalisation of local government. Citing political disconnect and the pledge in the Queen’s Speech to deliver a fairer society, the Bishop called for a creative reinvigoration of the relationship between central and local government, not least in the areas of health and social care. He cited Leicester’s plans for the reinterment of Richard III as an example of good local partnerships that also help create a sense of shared local identity.
The Lord Bishop of Leicester:My Lords, I want to take the opportunity of this debate to raise some questions about the balance of power between London and the regions in our country today. The gracious Speech emphasised the new financial powers to be implemented for the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales. While this is welcome, it highlights even more acutely the need for urgent action to address the very different environment for local government in England, in spite of what the Minister briefly said to us about resourcing local economic partnerships.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury asked Her Majesty’s Government what is being done to mitigate the social and cultural consequences of the weakening of community life in the United Kingdom.
The Bishop of Wakefield asked a supplementary question:
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, will the Minister join me in welcoming this morning’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government that the Near Neighbours scheme—a very successful collaboration between faith groups and government—is being extended for a further two years? Does he also agree that the scheme is an excellent example of strengthening social cohesion in ways that are sensitive to local dynamics, and that it could serve as a model for communities up and down the United Kingdom?
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: The right reverend Prelate is of course right to raise the issue of the Near Neighbours scheme. It is a successful scheme in which the Church of England works with local communities, and it shows how communities and wider faith groups can come together. My noble friend who is sitting to my right famously said, “This Government does do God”. We work with people of all faiths across the country to ensure that communities are vibrant and working well together.
Baroness Hanham asked Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the recommendations in the final report of the Electoral Commission Electoral fraud in the UK.
The Bishop of Wakefield asked a supplementary question:
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, following the question of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, about areas of high risk, in our diocese of Wakefield the local authority of Kirklees has been pinpointed as just one such area for the sort of reasons that the noble Lord mentioned. The local authority is working hard with a number of agencies to ensure the probity of the next elections. Will the Minister say what sort of support will be given to councils to enable them to fulfil this important duty?
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I was discussing that exact question with the electoral registration officer of Kirklees the summer before last, including the authority’s co-operation with the police. We all know that there are pockets of problems within Kirklees. It is a matter for local co-operation with the police, who are well aware of this. We are also well aware that there is a certain tendency in some local elections for candidates to use allegations of electoral fraud against each other as part of the local campaign. That is one of the reasons why the police are occasionally a little sceptical about allegations being thrown around during the campaign.
Baroness Lister of Burtersett asked Her Majesty’s Government what arrangements will be made from April 2015 for the payment to local authorities of the moneys devolved from the Social Fund.
The Bishop of Leicester asked a supplementary question:
The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, in view of what the Minister has said, will she assure the House that there will be a proper assessment of the take-up of government funds by local authorities in 2013-14 to inform future consideration of the success or otherwise of these changes? How will the Government ensure that future consideration is linked to the wider impact of the Government’s welfare reforms?
Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The Department for Work and Pensions is committed to reviewing how local authorities have been providing this support until now, and it will continue to do so during the course of 2014. What I hope we will see from that is that the very best practice which is being carried out in some local authorities will be used to inform other local authorities, and that the best practice is spread widely.
“One particular danger of the reduced provision, which will be exacerbated by its abolition, is the need for people to rely on high-interest lenders or loan sharks” – The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds
On 9th January 2014, the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds took part in Lord Smith of Leigh’s debate on the Local Government Finance Settlement. He focused his remarks on local welfare provision, and the risks associated with the removal of funding for local welfare provision from April 2015.