Settlement is simply not fair

PUBLISHED: 11:04 17 January 2008 | UPDATED: 10:01 04 May 2010

WHEN the Local Government Minister recently announced the funding settlement for local councils in England, he was right to say it was tight , but by calling it fair he was stretching credulity. As far as East Cambridgeshire is concerned this is anyth

WHEN the Local Government Minister recently announced the funding settlement for local councils in England, he was right to say it was "tight", but by calling it "fair" he was stretching credulity.

As far as East Cambridgeshire is concerned this is anything but an equitable deal and local services such as waste collection and leisure facilities could suffer as a result.

The Government's decision means the district, one of the fastest growing areas of the country, will receive a below inflation rise of just one percent for the next financial year, with slightly smaller increases in each of the following two years. Council officers believe this will create a budget shortfall of just over £100,000 with the gap increasing to more than £300,000 by 2009/10.

The difference between what the council needs and what has been provided will probably have to be met by either cuts to services or Council Tax increases. Bearing in mind that Council Tax here has already increased by 128 per cent in the last decade, and the existing pressure on services given the rapid growth of the local population, neither option is justified.

Between 1991 and 2001, the population of the East of England grew faster than any other region in the country. During the same period, major new housing projects resulted in East Cambridgeshire experiencing the fastest population growth anywhere in the region, with an increase of 20 per cent. This area is still currently one of the fastest growing districts in the UK with a projected 16.8 per cent population increase between 2001-2021.

These are striking statistics and explain why local politicians of all hues have reacted with such anger to the Government's real terms cut in the council's funding. Indeed, the leaders of all the political parties in the district council have made a joint submission to the Government asking them to reconsider their decision. They have my full support.

Despite the construction of 681 new houses in the district during 2006/07 and with thousands more in the pipeline, the Government has actually revised downwards its projections for East Cambridgeshire's population, which partly explains the low level of funding offered. According to the council they have also over-estimated future local economic growth and consequently tax receipts. As council leader Brian Ashton has said, "it beggars belief that anyone can think one of the fastest growing areas of the country will actually see its population rate fall, but its growth conversely rapidly increase."

I have always made it clear that Ely and the surrounding area cannot keep absorbing more and more houses without expanding public services and facilities - which costs money. If ministers want this area to remain a hub of growth they have to provide the funding to match.

When I surveyed the population of Ely on life in the city a year ago more than four out of every five respondents felt that public services and amenities were not growing in line with new housing developments and population growth. This situation is only going to be exacerbated by such a miserly funding settlement and it is the people of East Cambridgeshire who will ultimately pay the price.

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