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Wednesday, 07 February 2018

Minister accused of trying to 'buy off Conservative shires' with council funding

Written by Dan O'Donoghue and Harriet Line

Sajid Javid has faced claims of trying to "buy off Conservative shires" with council funding to avoid a Commons rebellion.

Shadow local government minister Jim McMahon said the Communities Secretary seemed "absolutely determined" to bank on the support of Tory backbenchers, as he hinted Mr Javid was pursuing grander aims than his current role.

On Tuesday Mr Javid said the rural services delivery grant would be increased by £31 million - £16 million more than proposed in the provisional settlement.

He also announced a further £150 million in 2018/19 for the adult social care support grant.

Tory MPs welcomed the move although Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) said more needs to be done to address the "underlying unfairness" and the "underlying challenges" for rural areas.

The motions on the latest local government finance settlements were approved, with a vote on the first supported by 287 votes to 223 - majority 64 - and by 263 votes to 188, majority 75, when the votes of MPs in English constituencies were taken into consideration for the required double majority.

Speaking during the debate, Labour's Mr McMahon said: "The Secretary of State hasn't got the ear of the Chancellor, so when he knocks on the door of number 11 and asks for more money, the Chancellor's not particularly interested in banking that support for the future.

"As much as the Secretary of State seems to be absolutely determined to bank the support of Conservative backbenchers for the future, for whatever reason I don't know, in order to... face off a rebellion today, to buy off Conservative shires, that's what it is so be honest about why the money has been put in place."

Mr McMahon added the extra funding provided was a "one-off", adding: "Do Conservative backbenchers really want this charade every year when we get to this point in the calendar were we know there's not enough money to fund public services but they hold their nose because they've been bought off by a couple of pounds?"

Ms Morris said the financial support offered by the department was welcome before telling the Commons: "The Government has to address the underlying unfairness and the underlying challenges for rural areas, which simply are not understood in any formulae I've seen in any of the spending areas.

"This is something which is critical to get right before, if the Government has what it wants, that all funding is actually generated locally, is put in place, because if we don't understand the actual need of rural areas, we're never going to be able to ensure that whatever we do locally is going to meet that need."

Earlier in the debate, Mr Javid accused shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne of "childish antics", following his calls for the Cabinet minister to resign for creating a "damaging lack of trust" between Government and local authorities after incorrect figures were published in December's provisional settlement.

The settlement, announced shortly before Christmas, informed local authorities of what central Government funding to expect in 2018/19.

It emerged last month that there had been a "data error" in the calculations, meaning a set of revised figures would have to be provided.

Responding to Mr Gwynne's comments, Mr Javid said the provisional settlement was based on "the best published data available at the time".

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) PA Wire.