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LGC letters 18.10.07

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Financial planning?

Neither I nor, I suspect, many Labour councillors, would claim to be happy about the one percent real-terms increase for local government spending in the comprehensive spending review, given the pressure on key services. But Local Government Association chairman Sir Simon Milton (Con) chose his words carefully when he commented on the settlement in the context of the last 10 years (LGC, 11 October).

The last three Tory government settlements inflicted a real-terms cut of 5.3% on council funding. And now the party does not appear to have any plans for local government finances.

So what exactly would the Tories do about council expenditure, and how do they think it should be funded?

Sir Jeremy BeechamLeader, LGA Labour Group

'Dishonest' tax raiser

The comprehensive spending review is a dishonest strategy to keep income tax at fixed levels and raise huge sums through council tax. Council tax is being used to raise taxes by the
back door.

Surrey CC is increasingly recognised as a leading and innovative council in terms of efficiency. It has reduced its budget by more than£40m through efficiency savings and innovative ways of working.

I challenge the government to make the types of efficiency savingsSurreyhas. For example, it has led the way with its award winning shared service centre, highly efficient contact centre, its professional approach to procurement and its reduction in administrative costs.

The government should follow suit. If it improved its own efficiency there would be more money to fund some of the real challenges inBritaintoday.

Surreyhas reinvested efficiency savings in key services, with£8m to enable more elderly people to live at home and£3m to recruit more social workers.

There is concern that the government's need to raise taxes will add further pressure on councils who are already doing everything in their power to be as lean and efficient as possible.

NickSkellett (Con)Leader,SurreyCC

Policing the police

So Amelia Cookson from the Local Government Information Unit thinks we need greater democratic oversight of the local police (LGC, 4 October). Is this a real need or just a desire to return to the old days of more power for the council?

Local police authorities already exist as independent bodies to hold the police to account; to consult with the public on their priorities, set the police budget and council tax, appoint the chief constable and his team and scrutinise police performance, efficiency and effectiveness. Police authority members are a mix of local councillors, magistrates and entirely independent members of the community where diverse representation is encouraged.

Some police authorities are more effective than others and there is always room for improvement. And partnership with counties, districts, unitaries, business, health, schools and other bodies is the future in a complex local landscape.

But let's not delude ourselves the police need another layer of 'oversight' like a hole in the head. Let the chief constables get on with what they do, including appointing basic command unit commanders, and the police authorities will get on with what they do.

Rosemary YuleTreasurer, Northamptonshire Police Authority

Keep the change

The battle for concessionary fares funding for public transport has most certainly not been won (LGC, 4 October).

We have moved from three options under formula grant to four options under special grant. If these options do not reimburse councils for the additional costs of providing the new concession the battle goes on.

For medium and large district councils especially those with significant tourist attractions, second home owners, holiday camps and near resident caravan owners or an above average elderly population none of the options so far are palatable.

Scarboroughfaces a projected revenue shortfall in 2008-09 of at least£700k under the best option, and over£1.1m for the other three options. As the Department for Transport believes the£212m grant is "more than sufficient", perhaps it could reimburse cost increases for all councils and keep the change.

Paul CresswellHead of financial services,ScarboroughBC

It's not fare

I welcome the belated decision by the Department for Transport to reopen the consultation on the distribution of additional funding for next year's national concessionary fares scheme extension (LGC, 4 October).

However, any benefit is likely to be lost amid the unsuitability of the underlying administrative framework for concessionary fares inEngland. The current framework is a lazy confabulation of the discretionary powers contained within the 1985 Transport Act and the statutory duties set out in the Transport Act 2000 and later amendments.

As a consequence, there are variations between Transport Concession Authorities (TCAs) and operators in the assumptions made, so reimbursements between neighbouring schemes vary.

Leaving aside the concern over the allocation of funding for the existing scheme to TCAs, the level of funding is unsatisfactory and has led to TCAs effectively being required to offer a 'blank cheque' in the face of growing pass use.

Operators genuinely feel that they are being short-changed, while the TCAs find additional costs arriving with no means to raise additional revenue. The result will be either cuts in other services to fund bus travel, or loss of bus services as operators cut those most heavily used by concessionary passengers.

Either way, customers will suffer.

Fran GarthwaitePassenger transport manager, Essex CC, and vice chair, Association of Transport Co-ordination Officers

Back-pay demand

Following recent correspondence about concerns over how the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates population, I wanted to raise a different perspective of the problem (LGC, 11 October).

In Hounslow, the recent changes to how the ONS calculates figures saw its population 'rise' by more than 4,000 though this figure is still less than our own and Greater London Authority estimates.

The original estimates were used to calculate the money we received in the grant settlement for the last two years, and so I have written to the Department for Communities & Local Government to ask for the£5m it was entitled to.

It seems only fair that local people have this money back.

Peter Thompson (Con)Leader, HounslowLBC

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