Concern over grants cuts’

COUNCILLORS have reacted with fury to effective cuts in Government grant for 2008/09. Neither Cambridgeshire County Council nor Huntingdonshire District Council has yet had time to assess the impact of below-inflation increases, so it is not clear what ef

COUNCILLORS have reacted with fury to effective cuts in Government grant for 2008/09.

Neither Cambridgeshire County Council nor Huntingdonshire District Council has yet had time to assess the impact of below-inflation increases, so it is not clear what effect they will have on Council Tax or services.

The fastest-growing county in England will get just two per cent more from Whitehall next year, less than half of the 4.2 per cent county average, and Huntingdonshire's 3.6 per cent increase is an effective 1.6 per cent cut in real terms, according to HDC's executive councillor for finance, Terry Rogers.

County council leader, Sawtry's Councillor Keith Walters, said: "It is early days and we need time to analyse this settlement and its implications, but on the face of it this is another kick in the teeth for the residents of Cambridgeshire.


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"What is clear is that Cambridgeshire's grant increase is well below inflation for the next three years - in real terms this actually represents a cut in grant.

"At a time when Cambridgeshire is trying to cope with unprecedented demand for its services, the Government gives us yet another hopelessly inadequate settlement, which is going to put us in dire financial straits for the next three years.

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"The rising demand for social care, rocketing oil prices, the increasing numbers of elderly residents and the wide-ranging pressures resulting from the massive house building programme are just a few of the pressures we are facing now and will continue to face over the coming years.

"This settlement is wholly unfair and places a quite unreasonable burden on the county council and its taxpayers."

Cllr Rogers said that the Government would end the three-year period owing HDC nearly £2.2million in grant Whitehall calculated the district needed.

The money is withheld from low-spending authorities like Huntingdonshire to prevent large Council Tax rises in profligate authorities. Only two of the 238 district councils in England have had more money withheld.

The county also suffers from "floors and ceilings" in the revenue support grant settlement.

In the past HDC has been able to make up some of the shortfall through efficiency grants. But some of the most lucrative have now been included in the settlement, Cllr Rogers said. "Those are no longer available, and that's on top of the real-terms reduction (allowing for inflation)."

At £12.157million, the settlement is only £5,000 short of HDC's budget assumption, so it is the reduced ability to top it up with efficiency grants that is the real worry.

Once again, the Government is playing hard-to-get on its Council Tax capping régime, which will not be announced until after councils have set their precepts in February. But councils have been warned not to expect the same treatment as in previous years, but they have little choice. Both are likely to set an increase just below five per cent.

HDC has some reserves to fall back on if necessary, but they can be spent only once. It could instead increase charges, such as for leisure centre activities or planning applications. But it would have to be careful that it did not actually lose money that way by putting people off using facilities when a healthy local lifestyle is one of its core priorities.

There has been talk in the past of charging developers and other commercial organisations for planning advice ahead of applications. That could well be revived by HDC.

Terry Parker, director of commerce and technology at HDC, said; "We are disappointed with the announcement. The grant increase is supposed to provide for the increasing costs that we are subject to and for our growing population.

"There is growing demand for services and we do not feel the figures are a fair refection of this.

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