WHILE the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement gave the context in which finance decisions will be taken, local authorities have another two weeks to wait before hearing their financial fate.

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Councils are expected to hear how much the government will give them on December 18 or 19 – giving their finance officers a busy time during the days leading up to Christmas.

Budgets are currently being prepared for the 2013/14 financial year – and one thing authorities can be confident of is that there will be no change in government funding next year.

Chancellor George Osborne confirmed that central government’s grants to councils would be unchanged next year – but that there would be a cut of £445 million the following year.

Suffolk County Council’s deputy leader Jane Storey is responsible for the authority’s budget, and said there were few surprises in the statement so far as the county was concerned.

She said: “We are really waiting until we receive the details of the council’s funding settlement on the 18th or 19th – we hope we may know enough to give a view at the full council meeting on the 20th.

“We are pretty sure what the situation will be for next year – but the following year we are looking at a further 2% cut on top of what we are already planning for and that could be quite a challenge.”

During his statement, Mr Osborne praised the Department for Communities and Local Government for cutting its budget.

Mrs Storey said this should be a spur to other departments to cut harder to ease the pressure on local government.

And she said her personal view was that the decision to maintain the overseas aid budget at its current level was wrong.

“Personally I don’t feel it is right to maintain that while departments serving people in this country are facing some quite major cutbacks,” she said.

Ipswich council’s Labour leader David Ellesmere said his authority was reasonably confident it would be able to cope with next year’s settlement, but it had real concerns after that.

He said: “The message from this really was pretty grim – there is no growth which is what the country needs.

“We will know the details later, but while things should be okay next year, the following years are looking pretty grim if the government doesn’t change its policies.”

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