Cambridgeshire County Council leader joins call for fairer funding to even gap between urban and rural authorities
Cambridgeshire County Council leader Steve Count has joined 31 others in writing an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for action to 'level up' the funding gap for local authorities.
The 32 leaders of the country's largest counties want Mr Johnson to stick by his promise to even up the gap between government cash given to urban areas and the shire counties as a matter of urgency.
Coun Count said counties like Cambridgeshire have historically been under-funded compared to their urban counterparts and that it has been recognised the current funding formula is "broken".
But he said it is a complicated process to tackle changing the formula as it will mean some areas losing large sums. But without changes and more money for Cambridgeshire he said residents face higher taxation and a lower standard or services, or as we have at the moment a "mixture of both".
Council tax payers in Cambridgeshire pay nearly three times as much those living in some parts of London.
The letter highlights the division between urban and rural funding with rural and shire counties receiving just £240 per person for public services including adult social care, children's social services, public health and libraries. That is 60 per cent less compared to residents in inner London which receives £610 per person or 46 per cent less than metropolitan and city authorities which get £419 per person.
The 32 leaders, head local authorities within the County Councils Network, and represent 25 million people. Analysis by the CCN shows that if its 36 member authorities were funded at the same per person average in England they would be receiving an additional £3.2bn per year..
In the letter, senior councillors warn that "if the Prime Minister is to fulfil his pledge to level up opportunity in this country, then we must have a cast iron commitment to fair funding for our underfunded and overburdened councils".
"The previous government had pledged to seek to re-address the balance in funding between different areas and had been reviewing the ways councils are currently funded through the ‘Fair Funding Review’. This was introduced following intense lobbying by county authorities and their MPs following deeper cuts to council services in these areas over the past four years.
"The proposals from the review were due to be implemented from next April. CCN had welcomed initial proposals set out by the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government, led by Rishi Sunak MP who has since moved to the Treasury as Chief Secretary.
"However, there is uncertainty as to whether the review will take forward these proposals – and when. Following the announcement there would only be a one-year spending review, county leaders say they will accept a short delay to a new funding system being introduced in return for a ‘cast-iron’ commitment from the new government that it will conclude and implement the review – and provide an emergency injection of additional funding next year."
Coun Count estimates Cambridgeshire is under-funded by around £50m a year and says the county needs at least £30m just to standstill.
He wants the government to provide some interim extra money, as it has done in the past two years, to help tied the council over until a new formula is introduced.
Coun Count said: "The funding formula is broken and needs replacing, but it is complicated. Counties like our have been campaigning for years, but only now are our voices being heard.
"A new formula was getting close to being complete, but it has been delayed and then delayed again partly because of Brexit. If it is to be delayed for another year then we need the government to provide extra funding to help plug the gap."
Unless the new Government provides additional resources and a commitment to fairer funding, CCN warn that they will have to cut back on frontline care services, repairs to potholes, streetlights and youth and sure start centres. They also say that they will have no choice but to continue raising council tax in years to come to make up the funding shortfall.
The letter concludes: “If the Prime Minister is to fulfil his pledge to level up opportunity in this country, then we must have a cast iron commitment to fair funding for our underfunded and overburdened councils.
“Boris Johnson knows from his time as London Mayor how the capital benefited from more generous funding; enabling him to invest in its infrastructure and local services, while cutting council tax.
“It is time our shire counties were given the same opportunities.”