Sunday, 26 February 2017

Fair funding for local government and economic regeneration

My article in this week’s Cornish Guardian will be as follows:

Last week, a majority of councillors backed the unitary authority’s budget for 2017/2018, which had been put forward by the Independent and Liberal Democrat administration. This included a 3.97% increase in council tax, of which 2.0% represented a specific increase in funding for adult social care.

I supported the increase, as did my MK colleagues, due to the ongoing reduction in funding due to central government’s continuing austerity measures and the increasing cost of providing local services.

Indeed, the pressures on the finances are such that none of the other political groups, including the main Conservative opposition, felt able to put forward an alternative budget.

Local Tories have instead preferred to criticise individual spending decisions, mostly through the media. Some council decisions might be unwise, such as the proposed recruitment of a Head of Communications and Engagement at £70,000, but the parlous state of our public finances should not be denied.

I find it frustrating that the some local Conservatives seem to be continuously condemning the present administration for “pleading poverty for vital everyday services” while suggesting that loads of money is being wasted on their “own vanity projects.”

What a contrast to the leader of Devon County Council, who will be defending his record as leader of a Conservative-run authority at May’s elections. He has hit out at his own government’s approach to the funding of local government as “absolutely a shambles.”

And what a contrast to the chairman of the Local Government Association, also a Conservative, who has condemned the latest funding settlement from central government. This will not provide any new funding for councils in 2017/18 and he has stated that this would leave a local government funding gap of £5.8 billion by 2020, pushing many authorities “perilously close to the financial edge.”

Cornwall Council’s budget for the coming year was first debated in November, when calculations showed that the unitary authority would raise an additional £14 million from council tax but, because of cuts in grants, the Council would, overall, end up with £2.5 million less to spend on services.

The figures presented to this most recent meeting were somewhat different because of the rural 100% business rate retention pilot and the redefinition of some highway maintenance capital grants as revenue, but the underlying budgetary problems were broadly the same. This meant that elected councillors needed to come together to safeguard the council’s finances.

It is indeed a very difficult time for Cornwall, especially with central government’s announcement that Cornwall is only going to receive £18 million from the latest Growth Fund, when £127 million had been requested.

This is a disaster for Cornwall. It shows that the investment priorities of the Westminster Parliament are failing Cornwall and surely local politicians should be uniting to demand fair funding for Cornwall.

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