D&S column: Budget boost for local councils and the High Street

One of my jobs as Minister for Local Government is to make sure our councils have sufficient resources to pay for the care services vulnerable people in our community require, namely the elderly, people with disabilities and children in need.

Most people don’t realise that for a typical large council, around half of all the general resources they have are spent on social care services.

With our ageing population, demand for adult social care services in particular is increasing rapidly.

So I was delighted on Monday when the Chancellor announced as part of his Budget that an extra £650m will be given to boost adult social care next year. North Yorkshire will get a slice of that money.

Having talked extensively to local councils – including North Yorkshire - over recent months about this issue, I am very aware of the pressures they face. My Ministry has worked closely with the Treasury to make the case for local government and I very pleased that Philip Hammond was able to respond so positively.

Mr Hammond’s Budget announcement comes on top of the £240m pledged in October to help local councils cope with demand this winter.

There was also an extra £55m in disabled facilities grant funds – money local councils can use to adapt elderly or disabled people’s homes to enable them to continue living there.

And there was another £84m for children’s social care programmes – like North Yorkshire’s innovative and successful No Wrong Door project which helps young people in care make a successful transition to adulthood. 

The significant Budget boost for our High Streets is also very timely. Business Rates are the issue most commonly raised with me by our small retailers and the vast majority of retailers in Northallerton, Richmond, Stokesley, Leyburn and Bedale will benefit by having their business rates slashed by a third for the next two years until the next business rates revamp in 2021.

That’s an annual saving of up to £8,000 for up to 90 per cent of all independent shops, pubs, restaurants and cafes in our market towns.

The Chancellor also acknowledged the need for our High Streets to embrace change as they face the challenge of online shopping.

He has created a £675m Future High Streets Fund which local councils can bid into with formal plans for the transformation of their town centres, to invest in the improvements they need, to make it easier to redevelop under-used retail and commercial areas into residential properties to bring much-needed footfall to High Street businesses. I hope our local councils will take advantage of this opportunity.

Our pubs and brewers in North Yorkshire – a vital part of our rural economy - will welcome the freeze on duty paid on beer and ciders. The timing for this was excellent, as I spent time with Stu and Maria Miller, the landlords of the successful community pub, the George and Dragon in Hudswell, in Parliament just this week! The freeze on spirits duty is also a boost for our growing band of niche distillers.

Finally, there was some good news for motorists. As well as a further fuel duty freeze, there is a £420m fund for local councils to fix potholes this winter. I am sure that is something we are all delighted about!