"We are not getting our fair share from government. Any lobbying the County's Conservative administration has done has been as effective as whistling in the wind." Cllr Elisa Meschini (Kings Hedges), Labour County Group Leader
The motion which I am presenting to the upcoming meeting of Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) on 16th March reprises a theme which has been dear to me since the start of my term on the council.
Just as I was stepping up my election campaign ahead of the May 2017 elections in Cambridgeshire, concerns were mounting that the Revenue Support Grant, set up by Government in 2013 to support local authorities with roughly 20% of their revenue budget, was being phased out with nothing to replace it. The Grant came to an end in the 2019/2020 financial year, during which its contribution to CCC’s budget finally decreased to zero. It has been zero since, and the effects are plain for all to see.
CCC isn’t the only authority which has experienced eleven years of crippling austerity. We’re all, more or less, on the same boat.
Where Cambridgeshire is unique is how much it’s been growing. It has been the fastest growing authority in the country for a number of years. The current funding formula introduced in 2013 doesn’t recognise the impacts of population growth on demand for services and doesn’t compensate Cambridgeshire fairly for increased costs due to regional variations in deprivation and rurality. The current funding formula uses population statistics based on data from the 2001 census and is not updated year on year. We must get an updated funding formula taking into account the 2021 census as soon as it’s available.
I presented this case, such as it already was, in a motion to council in 2018. The Conservative administration’s response was to congratulate themselves on the large amount of government lobbying that they were doing, and presented as proof of success the one-off grants awarded to Cambridgeshire to support some of its services such as Highways repairs and Adult Social Care.
But this is not success. It is failure.
First of all, one-off grants are calculated based on the existing funding formula, which short changes us massively. And secondly, excessive reliance on one-off grants for the provision of basic services is no way to run an authority efficiently. How are we supposed to budget for the medium term, when grants are allocated on a whim, with no pattern or predictability, and always come in lower than we expect?
CCC has received approximately £67m of emergency funding from government since March 2020. This has represented 16.5% of CCC’s net revenue budget. Roughly a quarter of this funding came in during the last week of December 2020, literally days before the deadline to finalise budget plans for the upcoming financial year. It saved us from complete bankruptcy, but otherwise didn’t dent the large budget gap which led to the Conservative administration passing a budget with yet again more “efficiency savings”.
Government can’t keep local authorities on the breadline like this. As a growing county, Cambridgeshire makes a positive contribution to the national GVA, producing goods and services of a higher value than those consumed. The OBR expects unemployment to increase from its current level of 5.1% to a peak of 6.5% as a result of the pandemic. We estimate increased financial pressures linked to demand for services, with rising unemployment as one of the factors influencing the extent of these pressures.
This leads to my renewed calls for CCC to make its voice heard about the effects of this government’s unwillingness to fund local authorities properly. I have no doubt that the Conservative administration will once again congratulate itself on its lobbying and point to the grants we have received. But the reality on the ground tells a different story. Since 2013, CCC has experienced a real terms reduction of 59.1% in government funding. This reflects the latest forecasts for changes in planned day to day spending by government department, which have seen the MHCLG experience a 60% reduction in funding as per the spring budget.
We are not getting our fair share from government.
Any lobbying the County’s Conservative administration has done has been as effective as whistling in the wind. Government promises to review the funding formula, first made in 2015, remain unfulfilled. Cambridgeshire deserves better but, before that can be achieved, its political leadership needs to stop lying to itself and its residents.
Full text of the motion available from here.