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"Good news" as cuts to Westcountry council funding unveiled

By GDemianyk  |  Posted: December 18, 2013

Councilgeneric

Plymouth City Council’s spending power will be reduced by 3.6% next year, a loss of £8.5million, and looks set to see their grant scaled-back by 3% the year after, or a £6.9 million loss.

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Westcountry councils will face deep cuts to their budgets as the latest Whitehall austerity  drive was unveiled.

Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis announced a an average 2.9% cut in the "spending power" for local authorities from April 2014.

The "spending power" measure favoured by the Government bundles together all Whitehall grants, and makes assumptions over council tax, business rates and other revenues authorities can raise.

But it masks the full extent of the cut in grant to councils, though it underlines the shortfall they face.

Ministers also published provisional "spending power" figures for 2015/16, which again shows have authorities will have to cope wit less.

Cornwall Council will lose £13.6 million in spending power in 2014 – a cut of 2.7% – and  £5.6 million the year after, a further reduction of 1.1%.

Plymouth City Council's spending power will be reduced by 3.6% next year,  a loss of  £8.5million, and looks set to see their grant scaled-back by 3% the year after, or  a £6.9 million loss. 

Torbay Council's spending power will go down by £4.8 million in 2014-15, or 3.5% less, and by £3.8 million, or a 2.8% drop, the year after.

Devon County Council will have to make do with spending power reduced by £9 million from April, or a 1.6% fall. It will actually see a £3 million increase the year after, or a 0.5% jump.

Among the district councils in the region, North Devon Council will be the hardest hit. It will see spending power cut by 5.9% next year and 6.9% the year after.

Torridge District Council, too, will have to dig deep, losing 4.4% then potentially 5.4% the year after.

Other losers include East Devon (less 0.6% and 0.8%), Exeter (down 3.5% and 4.1%), South Hams (a drop of 1.2% then 1.9% the following year), Teignbridge (a loss of 1.4% of spending power then possibly an 1.8% loss) and West Devon (down 2% and then 3%)

Mid Devon will flatline this year (0%) and see an increase in spending power of 0.5% in 2015.

In the Commons, Labour's Shadow Government Secretary Hilary Benn said the cuts would essentially store up problems for future years.

Mr Lewis provoked jeers from the opposition benches when he claimed: "Today is a good news day for local government."

Nick Harvey, Liberal Democrat MP for North Devon, settlement leaves the area in an "increasingly perilous situation of trying to safeguard frontline services with decreasing support from Whitehall".

He added: "Our relative position has been worsened over the years by the historic funding bias towards urban areas of up to 50% more per head.

“Public services are getting thinner and thinner on the ground. Even though North Devon pulls some of its funding from Devon County Council, we are still in a situation where the district council is stretched to breaking point.

"It’s becoming inevitable that we will end up with fewer social workers or local bus services."

It was also revealed councils classed as in sparse areas will receive a share of a £9.5 million grant to help them make savings, with the coalition insisting it recognises rural authorities are under-funded and have extra costs in providing services to residents.

Last month, more than 25 MPs handed over petitions calling for countryside constituencies to receive better settlements from Westminster and for urban councils’ funding advantage to be reduced.

But Mr Harvey said: “The Government has previously indicated it wanted to improve the relative position of rural councils.

"The Chancellor went so far as to admit the formula needs improvement last week during a Parliamentary committee.

"Increasing the rural efficiency grant by £1 million is a token move that won’t help anybody – it would need to be 10 times bigger to have any impact.

“This is therefore an incredibly bitter pill to swallow, particularly after the rural funding lobby have been shouting so loudly on this front. The situation is unacceptable.”

Councillor John Hart, Conservative leader of Devon County Council, said an initial review suggests that its estimate of £100 million to £110 million of cuts by 2017 still stands.

He added: “I’ve already warned that there will be no sacred cows as we review our spending. A number of consultations on our services are currently under way and we’ll be making our final budget decisions for 2014/15 in February.

“There is some positive news. The Government has recognised the merit of our campaign about the extra cost of providing services in sparse, rural areas and awarded us almost £1 million towards this.

“Obviously that doesn’t go anywhere near bridging the gap between what urban and rural councils receive but it is, at least, recognition of the rightness of our argument and we will continue to campaign for Devon on this issue.”

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