Ministers must avoid “rebranding” the current council finance system as a substitute to a genuine new fair funding distribution, the chairman of the County Councils Network has said.
Paul Carter (Con) urged radical finance reform to ensure “greater equity” for county residents as his organisation claimed counties face a £2.5bn black hole by 2021, due it says to austerity and urban authorities receiving more than their fair share of funds.
As a result, the average band D county council tax bill is now £1,661, in comparison to £669 in Westminster City Council and £1,059 in Kensington & Chelsea RBC, two of the inner London areas the CCN says receives excessive support.
Cllr Carter, leader of Kent CC, said: “Local campaigns for fairer funding are gathering pace across the country, supported by many members of Parliament. The secretary of state has rightly committed to a fair funding review – at last progress is being made. But the government must resist temptation to rebrand the current flawed funding formula.”
He urged ministers to provide a “life raft” to support counties for the next two years, in the form of an extension of the transitional grant that is due to end at the conclusion of this financial year, to stave off further service closures. However, the fair funding review is now not expected to be implemented to 2021. Concerns have been expressed that a government without a majority would be unable to risk angering backbenchers in areas which would lose out in any funding redistribution.
Cllr Carter also urged ministers to relax rules preventing councils from raising additional income, suggesting they could charge an administration fee on concessionary bus passes and charges to use waste facilities. The implementation of a £2 fee to visit a recycling centre could generate £7m in Kent, he said.