PMQs: Keir Starmer warns councils face choice of 'cutting core services or facing bankruptcy'

Sir Keir Starmer has warned council leaders face a choice between “cutting core services or facing bankruptcy” as he pushed the Prime Minister to give more support to local authorities.

During Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons today Sir Keir asked whether the Government has “kept its promise” made by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick on March 26 to do “whatever it takes” to support local authorities in their Covid-19 response.

It comes after a report released this morning by the County Councils Network which found all 39 of the county and unitary authorities included in their study could use up their available reserves in 2021/22 to cover a funding shortfall of £2.5bn.

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Boris Johnson replied: “We have put £3.2 billion extra into local government to tackle coronavirus.”

PMQs. Photo: PA

Sir Keir said councils were presented with a choice of “cutting core services or facing bankruptcy.”

He said: “Either outcome will harm communities and mean local services can’t reopen.

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“That will drive up poverty, something the Prime Minister says he doesn’t intend to do. Local councils have done everything asked of them in this crisis, the Government hasn’t. Will the Prime Minister take responsibility and actually do something?”

Mr Johnson said he had outlined support for local government, adding the country can be “very proud” of its investments and the response of local government officials.

He added: “There are some councils, particularly Labour councils alas, that are not opening their schools when they could be opening them.

“And I say to him, I hope for the last time, now is the moment when he can say to those Labour councillors that it is safe for kids to go back to reception, to year one, to year six, to early years. Will he now say it?”

Sir Keir replied: “Every week the Prime Minister seems to complain that I ask him questions at Prime Minister’s Questions. If he wants to swap place, so be it.”

Mr Johnson urged Sir Keir Starmer to encourage people to send their children back to school as it is safe.

Sir Keir said: “The Prime Minister says poverty has not increased. I just read a direct quote from a Government report from a Government commission produced last week which says it has gone up by 600,000.”

Sir Keir added: “The social mobility commission has a clear answer to my question – this anticipated rise in child poverty is not driven by forces beyond our control.

“I’m sure the Prime Minister would agree that an even higher child poverty rate would be an intolerable outcome from this pandemic, so what is he going to do to prevent it?”

Mr Johnson said: “What we’re talking about is what has actually happened, which is a reduction in poverty.”

Mr Johnson added that one of the best ways to help the poorest children in the country “would be to encourage all kids who can go back to school to go back to school now because their schools are safe”.