Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff held the government to account on Wednesday over a misleading statement made last month by the Chancellor Duchy of Lancaster, Oliver Letwin, stating that Kirklees Council had ‘£200 million pounds in useable and unused reserves’.
The statement was made in a debate last month following a question on the problems facing social care in Kirklees from Batley & Spen MP Jo Cox. Letwin went on to say that the problems she raised were ‘not real ones’.
Outraged by the response Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff hit back at the government on Wednesday afternoon raising a point of order at Cabinet Office Questions:
“At Cabinet Office Questions before recess, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster stated in response to a question from my Honourable Friend the Member for Batley and Spen that Kirklees Council had “£200 million pounds in useable and unused reserves” and concluded that the problems we reported facing our constituents were, therefore, “not real ones”. I have now had it confirmed not just by officers of the local authority that their unused reserves are nowhere remotely close to this, and even including reserves that are already allocated and not useable the figure is nowhere near £200m. The Minister for Local Government has also now confirmed by Written Answer that according to the government's own official figures Kirklees Council had less than a fifth of this amount in unallocated financial reserves at the end of the last financial year. Can I ask you what recourse there is for Members where a Minister has, even if unintentionally, misled this House on a matter that so seriously affects our constituents?”
Sherriff commented afterwards:
“It’s an absolute disgrace at a time when local authorities, predominantly in the north are being stripped to the bone of funding, that Ministers should make misleading remarks.
“Social care in this country is in crisis and it just goes to show what a terrifying situation we are in when Government Ministers are picking random figures out of the sky, trying to pin the blame on local authorities for not spending money they don’t have.
“It’s time they came and saw first-hand the effects their cuts have on people’s lives in areas like Kirklees, and stop trying to pass the buck in such an incompetent appalling manner to try and mask their failure. “