Funding equalities

People often criticise councillors for never agreeing – but some things feel so unjust that we can all stand together and present a united front.

The inequalities in the funding councils like ours receive from government is just such an issue.

Representatives of the Conservatives and Lib Dems joined me and some of our local MPs to lobby directly to the government.

We put our case direct to Marcus Jones – the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

In my view, our funding settlement is completely unfair in that it penalises us now for past decisions where we accepted government options available to us.

For example – we were told that if we froze our council tax, a 0% rise for our residents, we would receive the cash we would have gained from a 2% increase. That money has not been added into the base budget, it was to come through grant and now that grant has been cut. It is costing us £14 million every year.

That is on top of the disproportionate way councils like ours are affected. Kirklees is the 8th lowest funded council in the country – and the second lowest funded Metropolitan council per head of population. That is despite many areas of need.

The purpose of our meeting was to appeal directly for help to bridge our funding gap.

Kirklees is heavily dependent on its government grant, and like other authorities in a similar position, has seen a much greater cut to its overall level of funding. With our council tax and business rates funding base not as strong as most other authorities because the vast majority of properties fall in Band A and most of our businesses are SMEs, the net funding loss for the Council over the next three years will be £10.8m.

Changes to New Homes Bonus and Education Services Grant have added a real financial issue which risks undermining our financial plans.

The 2017-18 provisional figures and latest population statistics show Kirklees spending £639 per head of population. The average for mets is £747.

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The combined impact of a fundamentally unfair distribution, an existing low funding base, rising demands, and the additional negative impact of the changes I mentioned earlier means there is an unprecedented shortfall, which we have limited options to put right.

We have saved almost £130 million already. Our future savings plans risk being harmed by government policy. Local residents and businesses are the ones paying the price for that, and all can see the inequality in this. A united front to government was important – it is only that way that they see that our efforts are not posturing or playing politics – they are real, and urgent, and  vital to stop us losing more and more vital services.

 

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