Councils claim they are short-changed

THE Government is taking more money from families in the South East of England to give to people in the Midlands and the North, it was claimed yesterday.

THE Government is taking more money from families in the South East of England to give to people in the Midlands and the North, it was claimed yesterday.

As a result, public services in the South East are facing a £300 million shortfall, county council leaders in the region have said.

They claim their councils face stark choices over which services to cut unless Whitehall increases central grants to the area.

Eleven county authorities surrounding London have joined together to make the points as part of a major new campaign to win more grant money.

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The leaders say that, unless funding rises, they will either have to scrap 8,000 social care packages for children, turn away 18,000 elderly people from care homes or remove 6,500 people from learning disability support.

Yesterday Lord Hanningfield, chairman of Essex County Council, said that almost 70% of council tax paid by residents went into public services in the county while in the North the figure was around 50%.

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He added that without the Government formula designed to subsidise northern local authorities, council tax would only have to rise in line with inflation each year, and possibly less as efficiencies were made.

“We haven't identified an exact amount but each year it has slanted,” he said.

“Each year there is a gradual shift away from us to the North.

“It is because of the way the Government works out the whole support system for the North.”

He added: “It is quite a complex thing. Essex has lost about £100 million since the system was set up, and we are now paying a higher percentage of the costs of local services.

“We need a rethinking of how we pay for local services so we don't keep loading it too much on the council tax, which in the end makes people very resistant to council tax.”

Keith Mitchell, chairman of the South East County Leaders, said: “We are not asking for special treatment.

“The South East provides the Government with £18 billion in taxes every year, for redistribution to other parts of the country and, unless the Government gives us back some of that money, we will be left to cut the public services on which everyone in the South East depends.”

The leaders say that Government spending per person in the South East, in terms of grants to councils, is £793 compared with an English average of £983.

They also say their council tax payers are being forced to “dig deeper” to support local services compared with the North.

A spokesman for the campaign added: “Not all of the South East can afford to support the high levels of council tax demanded by the Government.

“Service costs across the South East are high because of our proximity to London.

“Every family relies on county council services, from highway maintenance to providing care for vulnerable people, to dealing with waste.”

Yesterday Barbara Williamson, of Colchester Pensioners' Action Group, said while council tax was going up there was uncertainty about the future of services for older people.

“We still don't know what the free transport situation is going to be come April, and that is funded by local government.

“If money is going up to the North pensioners here could lose out.

“However, pensioners in the North do need the money as well.

“I think central Government should give much more local authority support. That has been cut back but taxes have not - all taxes have gone up except income tax.

“When most of us were working income tax was between 33% and 45% and supported education, pensions and health, but we are not seeing any of it back.”

The county councils represented by the Save Our Services campaign are Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, East Sussex, Essex, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, the Isle of Wight, Kent, Oxfordshire, Surrey, and West Sussex.

A spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said: “This is simply untrue. All regions and individual local authorities receive increases above inflation.

“The grant distribution formula is designed to distribute grant according to relative circumstances, and we are confident this is what it is doing.”

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