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Growing populations trigger funding fears

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Councils with the fastest-growing populations have warned that government funding levels do not take account of their changing demographics.

LGC analysis of figures released by the Office for National Statistics last week reveals London boroughs dominate the list of fast-growing populations, with Tower Hamlets, Islington, Camden and Hackney LBCs near the top of the list.

Forest Heath DC had the fastest-growing population, with a 4.2% rise between the middle of 2012 and the middle of 2013. However, a spokeswoman said the small district’s anomalous appearance was largely accounted for by the presence of two American air bases that rotated different numbers of military personnel in and out of the area each year.

“We are used to these figures being skewed each year, and do not use them for any planning purposes,” she said.

Karime Hassan, chief executive of Exeter City Council, told LGC the area’s 2% population rise – more than three times the figure for Britain as a whole, which was 0.64% – was due in large part to higher numbers of international students attending Exeter University.

Mr Hassan said the larger student population had benefited the local economy. But he added government funding was inadequate.

“It’s very difficult to identify, when we look at our grant settlement, how it breaks down and what they’ve taken into account,” he said. “Our settlement is going down year after year and that doesn’t seem to relate to our population demographic.”

Barking & Dagenham LBC saw its population rise 2% in the year covered by the latest ONS figures. Its head of strategy Karen Wheeler told LGC the government had provided additional school places funding, but said the authority was concerned about meeting growing future demand.

“In many ways we have the characteristics of an inner London borough but we are funded as an outer London borough,” she said. “We’ve been talking internally about how we manage and challenge that.”

In Islington, high birth rates contributed to a 2.2% population increase – the third highest in the UK. Council leader Richard Watts (Lab) said planning and transport services were feeling the pressure of catering for more people with less government investment.

“Our population is going up and our budget is being slashed by Whitehall,” he said. “Inner London boroughs like Islington need a much better short-term deal from the government for finance.”

Hammersmith & Fulham LBC seemed to buck the London trend, with the figures showing its population had fallen by 0.7% – the third largest decrease in the UK. However, LGC understands the authority is checking the accuracy of the figures.

The Department for Communities & Local Government uses census data, rather than annual ONS estimates, to calculate local government grants.

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