Ian Shires

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Willenhall North Ward, Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Walsall MBC Learn more

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Time for a reality check

by Ian Shires on 2 December, 2019

Image result for UK general election campaigning 2019You can’t have failed to notice that there is a general election in a couple of weeks’ time. You would be forgiven for thinking that it is just about whether or not we leave the EU with or without a deal or whether we remain in the EU. The election on Thursday 12 December is about much more than that.

It’s about how those pledges which have tripped so easily off the tongues of some of those seeking your support are turned into reality. All parties will need to look beyond those headlines about more funding for the NHS, the Police and our Schools. As important as these are they must be clear as to how these are to be paid for.

Fully funding our councils is the only way they will be able to keep providing the services which make a difference to people’s lives. Services that will give the elderly and the disabled the care and attention they need and deserve. How councils protect children and vulnerable young people and how they build the much needed new homes and look after our green spaces, fix our roads and collect our bins.

Call me old fashioned if you like but I believe that you do this by being honest with people. They are not soft, they know that the money has to come from somewhere.

Shifting the responsibility for funding away from central government onto local councils does nothing to improve the lot of those that live in the less affluent areas. Investing in local government helps to reduce the pressures elsewhere in the public sector, such as the NHS and the Police. It actually helps to save money in the long run.

I know from the casework and enquiries I get, and from getting out and about in our local communities that the continuing reductions in funding to Walsall Council has had a dramatic effect on the lives of local people and in particular the reductions in support to young people, families and vulnerable adults.

Communities face uncertainty, but as a local Councillors we get on with the job of supporting local people under very difficult circumstances. The highly regressive Council Tax system means that as the Conservative Government continues to underfund local councils, rises in Council Tax hit poorer communities hardest (Local Conservative MP Eddie Hughes has, since being elected, regularly voted in favour of reductions in funding to local councils).

Liberal Democrats demand better, which is why we are looking to reform Council Tax and replace Business Rates with a commercial landowner levy. The current system hits areas like Walsall where there is high demand for public services as a Party we are looking at ways we can redress the balance. Funding should follow the need.

I am pleased that we have outlined a range of ways in which it wants to support communities. This includes the announcement of £500 million to help local authorities tackle knife crime through a Public Health approach.

We would also give local councils the right to open new maintained schools and devolve all capital funding for new school places to local authorities. Liberal Democrats also want to promote an innovative approach to transport by allowing local authorities and the combined authorities to bid for local rail franchises.

No matter who wins the General Election on the 12th December, all parties will need to focus their attention on the overall funding for local authorities.  There needs to be a commitment to:

  • Increase funding for local authority budgets.
  • Devolve decision – making powers over the key driver of regeneration and economic recovery in areas such as transport, training and skills.
  • Empower Councillors as Community Leaders to drive the changes needed to shape future development.

Liberal Democrat Councillors will be at the forefront of the challenge to those who are seeking to become or retain their status as MPs in the new Parliament. In the short time remaining to the election they need to come clean on how Councils are going to be funded to satisfy the ever increasing demand for services.

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