Grantham Journal column: Fighting for fairer funding for county
As the summer holidays draw to a close, it’s back to school, college and work for many of us, ready to face the challenges ahead.
At Lincolnshire County Council, we’re already looking at how to balance the books for the new financial year starting in April.
Once again, it’s going to be hugely difficult, as we get so much less support from the Government than almost every other English council. That’s at a time when the costs of providing services – particularly social care for our growing older population – continue to rise.
You may have seen on the front of the latest County News that we’re launching a campaign for fairer funding for Greater Lincolnshire. We’re supported in this by all the other authorities across the region, including the seven districts in our area.
Together, we’re making it clear that Lincolnshire councils could soon be close to breaking point, and something has to change.
So what exactly is the problem? And what do we want the Government to do?
Over the decades, rural areas like ours have received far less money than urban ones, leaving us with much less to spend on vital services. As things stand, every single home across Greater Lincolnshire currently receives £239 less than the English average.
In total, the region is losing out on an eye-watering £116m – every single year. If we were brought up to the average annual funding level, we could use that money to build a new bypass or hospital, or transform our road network.
And we could still have enough left over every year from the £116m to:
n Fill four times as many potholes;
n Provide fibre broadband to all our businesses;
n Freeze council tax for everyone.
Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be making the case for fairer funding for Greater Lincolnshire to local MPs and Government ministers. We’ll also be asking local residents to support the campaign.
In speaking up for this region, we’re not asking for special treatment, or calling on the Government to abandon its commitment to strong national finances. We simply want a level playing field, which means bringing our funding up to the English average after decades of being left behind.
By 2020, the main Government grant to the council will have fallen by 86 per cent over a decade, while costs like the National Living Wage are continuing to go up.
To cope with these challenges, Lincolnshire County Council has reduced its annual spending by £288m since 2011. However, I believe we’re now close to the absolute limit, and we’ll struggle to balance the books in future years without deep cuts to services.
As I said, something has to change – and soon.