Herts County council leader ‘bitterly disappointed’ by funding announcement

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It outlines how much councils could receive from central government to deliver front-line services in 2024/5

COUNTY Council leader Cllr Richard Roberts says he is ‘bitterly disappointed’ by the provisional local government financial settlement.

The provisional settlement – announced on Monday (December 18) by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove – outlines how much councils could receive from central government to deliver front-line services in 2024/5.

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But Cllr Roberts says it contains ‘little additional funding’ for the council. And he has warned they could face ‘tough decisions’ over how to allocate resources as a result.

Hertfordshire County CouncilHertfordshire County Council
Hertfordshire County Council

It comes as the county council faces a predicted overspend of around £16m by the end of 23/24.

That overspend – driven largely by increasing demand for and costs of children’s services – has already led to a range of cost-cutting measures at the county council, including a freeze on recruitment to all but essential roles.

And there had been some hopes nationally that additional funds would be made available in the settlement to recognise the additional costs, being faced by councils across the country.

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Responding to the announcement, Cllr Roberts said: “Like other local authorities we had hoped to see some form of relief from the local government financial settlement for 2024/25, but were bitterly disappointed with the announcement yesterday, that sees little additional funding to assist with the rising costs of providing services in Hertfordshire.

“With just a small uplift to our funding from Government to provide services to those with special educational needs and disabilities the county council would have been on a sounder financial footing.

“But the lack of support leaves us with the harsh reality that we will have to make tough decisions on how to allocate our resources in the future.”

The government has now launched a four-week consultation on the provisional settlement, closing on January 15.

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And Cllr Roberts says the council will push to ensure the county receives the best settlement.

“As we respond to the consultation from Government we will fight tooth and nail to obtain the best settlement for the communities of Hertfordshire,” he said.

According to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the provisional local government finance settlement makes almost £4billion more funding available for councils in England in 2024-25.

They say that’s an increase of 6.5 per cent compared to 2023-24 – and ‘an above inflation rise in recognition of the pressures being faced by local authorities’.

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However the County Council Network (CCN) say that in reality it provides no additional funding – other than that which was already planned.

And the figures are based on the assumption that all council’s will increase their council tax precepts by the maximum permissible.

In Hertfordshire that could be an increase of up to five per cent without a referendum for the county council – which includes two per cent for social care.

The CCN – of which Hertfordshire is a member – has already made the case for emergency funding for councils.

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And they say they will continue to make that case to MPs in advance of the vote on the final local government settlement.

“With no additional funding announced, our councils will have no choice but to implement more severe reductions to services and to levy higher council tax rises,” said CNN vice chairman Cllr Barry Lewis.

“This will undoubtedly be a double whammy for residents during a cost of living crisis, while an increasing number of local authorities will struggle to deliver a balanced budget next year.

“We know that government finances are tight, but there is a value in investing in public services, so we will now be making our case to county MPs ahead of the parliamentary vote on the final local government settlement to ensure that they are aware of the extent to which highly valued local services will have to be cut next year unless further funding is provided.”

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Meanwhile Local Government Minister Simon Hoare has said the provisional settlement was ‘good news for our local government sector that we are presenting an above-inflation increase in funding’.

And Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said: “Councils are the backbone of their communities and carry out tremendous work every day in delivering vital services to the people they serve.

“We recognise they are facing challenges and that is why we have announced a £64billion funding package to ensure they can continue making a difference, including through our combined efforts to level up.”