Richard Fuller, MP for NE Bedfordshire, has criticised the government’s £35m bail out of Luton Council as ‘unfair’ to his constituents and stated that, instead, council tax should have been raised to meet the shortfall.
The government has announced the taxpayer-funded bail-out of four councils across the country, including two Tory-run authorities (£4.8m to Peterborough and £3.9m to Bexley), one LibDem-run council (£6.8m to Eastbourne) and a whopping £35m to the Labour-run Luton Council.
The councils in question have all, in Mr Fuller’s words, “badly messed up their finances.”
Local authority funding has been significantly cut by central government over the previous 10 years, requiring councils to make huge savings across their services.
Tory-controlled Northamptonshire council and Labour-run Croydon council have both issued a section 114 notice in recent years, declaring themselves bankrupt.
Mr Fuller said, “The right response from the government should have been to redirect each of these councils back to their local taxpayers requiring an additional charge on council tax bills to cover the extraordinary losses these councils had run up.
“Remember, most councils across the country are managing despite the additional pressure from Covid-19 (coronavirus).
“These four councils are the exceptions: the worst of the lot. These council leaders should rightly have been told to go back to those who elected them for payment and take the electoral consequences.”
Mr Fuller asserted that Luton Council, unlike Bedford Borough Council and Central Bedfordshire, has been able to rake in millions of pounds each year from its lucrative ownership of the land beneath Luton Airport.
“As planes have flown in and out of Luton airport, creating air and noise pollution for my constituents, money has gushed into Luton Council coffers,” he said.
“When Labour-run Luton Council went cap in hand to the government for a bail-out, this was a golden opportunity to impose financial discipline; an opportunity perhaps, as I have previously suggested, for the benefits of Luton Airport to be used to help fund local policing from which everyone in the county could benefit.”
Bedford and Kempston MP, Labour’s Mohammad Yasin, said: “Luton Airport is a crucial source of income for Luton Council so it hardly surprising it’s in trouble considering the impact of the pandemic on aviation.
“All councils are struggling to cover the costs of the pandemic, but I think the Government realises Luton has been particularly badly hit and has offered a form of compensation, as it did with the airline industry.
“This tells me, this is not a local party issue but rather the case that the Tory Government is not giving Local Authorities across the country or in our region the funding they desperately need.
“In fact, councils are still being asked to find savings when the actual costs of the pandemic far exceed what the Government has given to help.”
Mr Fuller concluded: “This bailout for Luton came the same day that Bedfordshire MPs were in Parliament to urge the Police Minister to improve financing for Bedfordshire Police and one week after a consultation closed on Luton airport flight paths.
“I strongly urge the Government to build on this review to provide a means to direct a greater share of future revenues from the airport to provide extra funding for Bedfordshire Police.”
Mr Yasin said: “I hope that Mr. Fuller will join me in calling on his Government to fund councils properly and stop expecting the public to cover the costs through Government enforced council tax rises.”