Stourbridge MP Margot James voted for increasingly deep cuts to funding for Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council’s public services across the borough over five years, peaking in a massive 44 per cent reduction for 2017-18. For 2018-19, the MP voted for a further 28 per cent year-on-year cut.
While a previous Dudley MBC administration* was accused by opposition parties of running up debt to keep public services afloat, Parliamentary records show that one of the biggest contributions to local pressures came from the MP and her votes on government policy in the House of Commons.
Over her eight years in power, Ms James voted to reduce government funding to the authority with ever-tightening restrictions, first by 4 per cent in 2010, but then by around 25 per cent in each of two consecutive years and for 2017-18 by the unprecedented 44 per cent reduction.
During the same period, she voted to shift responsibility for funding the running of statutory services like housing direct to the authority, adding to the burden. The change was widely presented as a ‘devolving of powers’ without reference to the unprecedented extra drain on council funds.*
Shortly after a Conservative/UKIP group wrested chairmanship control of Dudley Council from Labour in May 2017, figures were given to local media portraying the council’s £738 borrowing-to-invest programme as ‘debts’.
A report from the National Audit Office (NAO) reveals the pattern of little-reported year-on-year cuts in Parliament that have pushed Dudley into a corner over the provision of statutory local services it cannot legally abandon, including social care for children.
Overall, figures from the NAO indicate that Dudley was deprived of between 37-40 per cent of its baseline funding between 2011 and 2016. With this financial year’s local government 44 per cent spending cut, Ms James – now in her third term as MP for Stourbridge – helped ensure that the authority is suffering its biggest clawback yet over the next 18 months.
‘Authorities have used reductions in spending, rather than increases in locally raised income, as the main method of addressing falls in government funding. They have cut back on their staffing costs in particular.’
It concludes: ‘While local authorities have maintained financial resilience overall, some – particularly among metropolitan districts – are now showing persistent signs of financial stress, such as unplanned in-year reductions in service spend.
‘Looking to the future, there is increased uncertainty about how local authorities can manage further possible falls in income. While local authorities are planning for continued savings, they are increasingly relying on untested service transformation programmes to achieve them.’
* Local weekly newspaper Stourbridge News reported in 2017 that Dudley MBC’s chief officer for finance Iain Newman said: “Like most other councils we have borrowed money to invest in major assets like housing and roads.
“We manage this borrowing carefully and the interest rates that we pay compare well with other councils. One of the largest areas is housing, where five years ago we were required to borrow around £340million to meet changes in the national housing subsidy system.”
This story was updated on May 28 2018 to include details of the 2018-19 Govt grant vote earlier in the year.