This month, Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey was one of nine Conservative MPs in the East of England joining an astounding display of Tory hypocrisy. After consistently voting to cut central government grants to local authorities, they see their local services crumbling, and are now demanding more money for county councils (most of which are Conservative controlled).
For five consecutive years, Coffey voted to cut the grant by at least 25%, and in one year by more than half. The table shows how these votes, had they been implemented, would have reduced local government support by 90%.
In actuality, in spite of Coffey and others voting every year to reduce local government finance, the overall cuts were ‘only’ about 40%.
The plight of East Anglia’s councils has seen dramatic and sometimes dangerous cuts in services, and with schools and other public buildings crumbling for want of investment. But now, many of the region’s Conservative MPs are lobbying their own government. As the election approaches they are demanding more money for the region’s county councils in the forthcoming local government settlement.
In volte face, Tory MPs urge their government to act
The move comes from the County All Party-Parliamentary Group (CAPPG), though in spite of its claims to be all-party, the letter bears the signatories of mostly Tory MPs. Its wording too emphasises “county and rural areas”, intended to draw the attention of the minister, Michael Gove, to areas of presumed Conservative support.
There is an implied threat of rebellion if the demands aren’t met: “There is still an opportunity to rectify the situation and ensure MPs are able to support the vote on the Local Government Settlement within the House of Commons in early February.”
However, backbench rebellions among Tory backbenchers are much more threatened than carried out.
Region’s Tory MPs demand more money for their constituencies
In all, 44 Conservative MPs signed the letter. A quarter of them are in our region. One of our Labour MPs also added his signature. The region’s signers are:
Peter Aldous (Waveney)
Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal)
Vicky Ford (Chelmsford)
George Freeman (Mid Norfolk)
Tom Hunt (Ipswich)
Brandon Lewis (Gt Yarmouth)
Priti Patel (Witham)
Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich)
Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire)
James Wild (North West Norfolk)
Daniel Zeichner (Labour, Cambridge)
It has been a continuous theme of successive Conservative or Conservative-led governments since 2010 to put pressure on public spending and on local government in particular, in the belief that there are easy savings to be made, or that more entrepreneurial management can magically create more money. But most public services are provided by local councils, and after more than a decade of swingeing cuts, they are beginning to be in the position of not being able to meet their legal responsibilities, let alone the discretionary services like leisure centres, libraries or crime prevention. Three District Councils in the region – Uttlesford, Broxbourne and Thurrock – are already teetering on the brink.
It seems to be a surprise to some Conservatives that you only get what you pay for: and sometimes the voters don’t like the result.