Cornwall: Council calls on Cornish MPs to push government for more funding

By Richard Whitehouse - Local Democracy Reporter

10th Nov 2022 | Local News

Cornwall's six MPs (Top left to bottom right - Derek Thomas, Sheryll Murray, Cherilyn Mackrory, Scott Mann, George Eustice and Steve Double)
Cornwall's six MPs (Top left to bottom right - Derek Thomas, Sheryll Murray, Cherilyn Mackrory, Scott Mann, George Eustice and Steve Double)

Cornwall Council has called on the Duchy's six MPs to "make the strongest representation" to Government to secure additional and fairer funding for Cornwall as it struggles to set a balanced budget for the coming year. The council's Cabinet today agreed that its draft budget plans should be published for consultation but with a warning that the budget is currently not balanced.

The council is currently in the process of setting its budget for 2023/24 and has published draft proposals that would see the council's share of council tax rising by 2.99% and the need to make £46million of savings in the next financial year.

David Harris, deputy leader of Cornwall Council, told today's Cabinet meeting that the council was still forecasting a budget gap of £62m for 2023/24 and said that the council would continue to press the government for additional funding so that it can deliver a balanced budget.

And he told councillors that the council was writing to Cornwall's six Conservative MPs in "fairly stark terms" to ask them to press the Government for fairer funding for Cornwall and to help with the council's short-term budget pressures.

The deputy leader warned that whilst statutory services would be protected under the budget plans the council was having to review all discretionary services which it does not have a duty to provide.

Cllr Harris opened his comments by saying that the draft budget could be altered as a result of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's autumn statement which is due next week and which is expected to contain details of how much funding local councils could get next year.

He said: "We know the position will change further and we will need to continue to develop plans to manage the potentially serious situation that the council finds itself in.

"Like all authorities we will be listening very intently to the Chancellor's autumn statement a week on Thursday to get a sense of the possible impact on the local govt finance settlement which is expected in December and it is only then that we will have a clearer picture about the level of funding that will be provided for us next year and going forward.

"However, it is right that we share proposals as early as possible so that we can start our budget consultation which will run from November 11 to January 8 next year. The global and national economy is making delivery of our budget and last year's plans exceedingly difficult. Inflation on pay, contracts and indeed the demand for our services as the cost of living crisis really hits our residents, far, far exceeds our original plans and existing resources.

"We are not alone in this and local authorities all across the country are finding themselves in a similar position which is why we are backing the Local Government Association and County Councils Network  in calling on the government to recognise and respond to the perilous state of local authority budgets in the autumn statement.

"We, here in Cornwall, have written in fairly stark terms to our MPs asking them to make the strongest representation in relation to fairer funding and also in the short term to help us with the various pressures that we face today."

Cllr Harris outlined the current state of the council's budget and position: "The council is currently facing a budget gap of £62m in 23/24 this is up from the original forecast in the MTFP which went through Cabinet and council in February this year when it was £30m and the council has to find ways of cutting its costs so that it can present a balanced budget position. As a council we cannot present an unbalanced budget.

"This has been a very difficult budget process with some very difficult decisions still to be made before we are finally able to close the budget gap and I emphasise in the papers in front of you today the budget gap is not closed. Good financial management and planning last year did leave us in a sound position but the effect of the global economic uncertainty have created inflationary pressures that have hit us hard and left us needing to find further savings to plug the financial gap."

The Conservative councillor said that the council was determined to ensure that it could protect and continue to deliver frontline services. However he also warned that the council was carrying out a review of risks faced over the coming months.

He said: "The global economic uncertainty has also resulted in two of the council's strategic risks being upgraded to very high risk and to prompt a more detailed review of the risks faced by this organisation over the coming months. This budget focuses on ensuring that we spend the money we have on those things that matter most to our residents and are absolutely linked to delivering the council's mission and four priority outcomes. That means focusing on those essential statutory services like care, housing and waste collection whilst at the same time critically reviewing those services where we have a choice to rather than are obliged to provide."

Cllr Harris then reiterated his call for more Government funding and also highlighted the impact on council tax.

"While the budget is based on the funding plans currently in place we will, as I have already said, continue through all avenues available to press government to secure extra fair funding for Cornwall.

"The current budget assumptions include a rise in council tax to 2.99% which includes the 1% ASC precept equating to an increase of 99 pence per week for a Band D property. In holding that assumption we are very conscious of the impact that increasing council tax has on residents, particularly given the current cost of living crisis and the commitment made at the cost of living summit on swept 5. That is why we are making every effort to highlight and offer additional support for those that need it most through our council tax support scheme as well as other ways of accessing and acquiring help which are well signposted on the council's website and social media channels."

Proposing the budget to council he added: "None of us came into local politics to have to make some of the decisions that we are now looking at. The very difficult position in which we find ourselves is largely because of factors that are out of our control and that could not have been foreseen."

Cllr Harris added that a further budget report would be presented to Cabinet in December following the Chancellor's autumn statement so that any impact could be factored into the proposals.

Labour councillor Jayne Kirkham said that whilst she welcomed the calls for fairer funding there had been long-delayed plans for a review of local government funding by central government. She also added that whilst there were cuts to services planned next year they would come on the back of previous cuts which had been made as a result of cuts in funding caused by Government austerity measures.

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