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.

sheardblog1

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.

 

sheard-3

Tackling inequality in Kirklees

Tackling inequality is something most of us feel strongly about.

It comes in many forms, but in this latest blog I want to talk about economic inequality – the way that people’s economic wellbeing can vary.

The gap between rich and poor has become a major global challenge. That gap is increasing and it’s important for countless reasons that we do our best to address the problem. There are many steps we have taken locally to cut the level of economic inequality across Kirklees. And I also want to look at the wider, global picture and the role Kirklees is playing as a champion in this vital piece of work.

In the last few days alone, a decision has been made locally which will bring huge economic benefits. Members of the Cabinet (the council’s main decision making body) have agreed to invest £2million from the capital budget, plus a further £850,000 of Dewsbury Townscape Heritage funding, to help make Pioneer House suitable for local students.

Pioneer House is an iconic building in Dewsbury and the plan, enabled by the council, is that our friends from Kirklees College will bring it back to life by moving in around 1,000 students. This will bring jobs to North Kirklees, be a boost for town centre business and also open up new opportunities for disadvantaged young people who may otherwise be NEET (not in education, employment or training).

Promoting employment and house building is another way that the council is tackling economic inequality. We do everything we can to attract and retain business in the area and we proactively work with developers, including to bring difficult sites into use.

The council has adopted the living wage to support lower-paid staff and has set up Comoodle to create a strong culture of sharing resources. We work directly towards our economic strategy, which aims to build resilient, self-sustaining communities. And all of this is just the tip of the iceberg in Kirklees.

Yet we are also leading the way on a much bigger scale. As I said earlier, economic inequality is a global issue – and it is sparking a global response.

 At the end of March, I will be representing Kirklees at the launch of the ‘Inclusive Growth in Cities’ campaign. The campaign aims to
  • raise awareness of inequalities
  • focus the debate on finding concrete solutions
  • and empower local government to be leaders in achieving inclusive growth

I’m pleased to say that Kirklees is being recognised as an international champion of this work . . . . and we are in some illustrious company. There are about 25 champions around the world, with other regions or cities including Santa Monica and Los Angeles (USA), Otsu (Japan), Lima (Peru), Lisbon (Portugal), Paris (France), Madrid (Spain), Seoul (South Korea), Curridabat (Costa Rica) and Cape Town (South Africa).

Leaders from all of these places will assemble for a special event in New York, providing a unique chance to discuss economic inequality on a local, regional and global level. This will add to the international work of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and will be a great opportunity to share policy and learn from each other.

We will be looking at different areas such as housing, transport, education and employment. There is a strong commitment among us to make a genuine, lasting difference – and I know these conversations will lead to positive outcomes for our local residents.