Council anger over Government snub

SUFFOLK'S council leader has spoken of his anger after a joint bid by authorities in East Anglia to improve a “poor” Government settlement was met by a wall of silence.

By Danielle Nuttall

SUFFOLK'S council leader has spoken of his anger after a joint bid by authorities in East Anglia to improve a “poor” Government settlement was met by a wall of silence.

Leaders of all councils across the region wrote a joint letter a month ago to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott claiming this year's budget would lead to an unprecedented threat to future services.

The move came after Suffolk County Council outlined swingeing £24million cuts and job losses, hitting adult social care hardest.

But council leader Jeremy Pembroke said the authorities had not even received acknowledgement of the letter and said the Government appeared to be ignoring their plight.

“It's very strange that six counties write a letter - all of course with our names on - expressing sensible areas of concern about the lack of funding, and the least you could expect is to have a letter saying: 'thank you but no thank you',” he said.

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“To have complete silence is a strange way to treat the eastern region. We feel like we're being ignored yet we are at the coal face having to deliver services to people but we have a Government that will not give us adequate funding to carry out these duties.

“When we write to express our concern, we are greeted by silence.”

Suffolk received a provisional settlement increase of 2.9% towards council services from April 1 but the Government has since increased this by £118,000, making a total of £128m.

The figure, however, has not been enough to stop the council pressing ahead with cuts of just under £24m.

Meanwhile, Essex County Council received a grant of 2% for non-schools services from the Government's provisional settlement.

The council, which said this was the lowest level of grant settlement in the UK, is expected to confirm a council tax rise of 4.6% later this month. Its schools service will receive a grant increase of 6.3%.

Mr Pembroke said: “The Government has confirmed our settlement presumably therefore that is their answer.

“It doesn't give much confidence that you have a Government that consults. They only consult when it suits them.”

The letter, which was signed by the leaders of Suffolk, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire and Norfolk county councils, said: “It is vital that Central Government realises just how damaging to people the consequences of this settlement would be.

“This proposed settlement has major implications for some of our most vulnerable people.

“The grim reality is that this poor settlement, combined with capping, will result in serious damage to councils' strategic services - undoing much of the progress achieved by the government and local authorities in partnership over recent years.”

A spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said: “Suffolk has received a 3.5% increase in the Government grant this year.

“That's above inflation and is a substantial investment by Central Government to provide effective services without excessive council tax increases.

“In terms of the south east as a region, it has received a 2.7% increase in the government grant which is way above inflation. Suffolk has got a good settlement.”

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