Martin Hill: We need fairer share of government funds
In my last column, I looked at the many services Lincolnshire County Council provides for local people – from roads to social care and schools, and much more.
Let’s now consider the funding we receive to pay for these services – and whether it’s time for Lincolnshire to get a fairer deal.
As Local readers will know, the Conservative Government is committed to restoring the national finances to health.
With the clear support of the electorate, it aims to balance the books – ensuring the country doesn’t spend more than it earns – during this Parliament.
The council is prepared to play its full part in that, and we’ve achieved annual savings of £129m since 2011.
Looking ahead, we may need further savings of £120m by 2018, which is a big challenge. It’s also a challenge we’re trying to meet with one hand tied behind our back in terms of funding.
For many years, rural authorities like Lincolnshire have received far less financial support from the Government than urban areas.
Last year, for example, if Lincolnshire’s grants had been the same as metropolitan councils, we’d have been £245m better off – a budget increase of over 50 per cent.
If we were on a par with London authorities, we’d have had £629m, or 132 per cent, extra to spend on services for local residents.
Imagine how many more potholes we could have repaired, or the additional schools we might have built to meet growing demand.
With the support of all the political groups on the council, I’m now lobbying the new local government secretary, Greg Clark.
In arguing for a better deal for Lincolnshire, I’ve made clear we don’t expect special treatment – just a level playing field.
I’ve also reminded Mr Clark that local government as a whole has already shouldered the biggest share of national spending cuts.
With further reductions to come, other parts of the public sector must surely be asked to step up and do more.
Thirdly, I’ve raised the issue of devolved powers, which could really unlock the potential of county areas like ours. With greater responsibilities, we could integrate services much more closely with partners such as health, police and other local authorities across Greater Lincolnshire, cutting costs and promoting efficiency.
Another possibility would be the replacement of Lincolnshire’s county and district councils with a single unitary authority, saving up to £30m every year.
These ideas challenge the way we’ve always done things, but I believe we must be open to them, in the interests of the people we’re all elected to serve.