Mind the gap

THE local government finance settlement for next year was announced last week and there were no surprises in it for Cambridgeshire. As usual, the process was based upon government by preemptive press release . So the media were given selective figures a

THE local government finance settlement for next year was announced last week and there were no surprises in it for Cambridgeshire.

As usual, the process was based upon "government by preemptive press release". So the media were given selective figures and a load of spin before anyone on the receiving end was told anything.

It will take us a week or so to get to the detail that we need to illustrate the impact upon individual service areas. However, here are my first reactions to the bald figures.

The Government announced a 4.9 per cent increase in spending upon local government. Out of that, shire counties will get an average grant increase of 3.6 per cent - Cambridgeshire's grant increase will be 2.9 per cent.


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We could have an argument here about whether our grant increase is above or below the rate of inflation. Some of you will already have noticed that there are two different measures of inflation being used by the Government. The one they want you to think of sits at around 2.4 per cent. The other one, which they used to favour, is around 3.6 per cent. I favour the latter figure because, as any OAP will tell you, that is the amount by which the state pension will increase next April.

On that basis, our grant increase is below the rate of inflation as measured by a supermarket shopping trolley, let alone the cost increases being faced by local government.

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As always, we will be consulting you on the budget for the coming year. However, we have all agreed that asking you to choose between a four, five and six per cent Council Tax increase is not very productive. For the coming year you should assume a five per cent rise in Council Tax. We will be asking you to let us have your priorities for which services should be protected from cuts more than the others.

For, make no mistake, a low Government grant and keeping the tax rise down to five per cent will leave us with a budget gap. And some kind of service reductions will be necessary to balance the books.

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