Grant freeze could force service cuts
leader Edward Lister has warned two ministers that their funding plans
for next year could force Wandsworth to cut services. Wandsworth
faces a freeze in its main government grant at the same time as local
government minister Nick Raynsford is threatening to cap
The conflict arises because education secretary Charles Clarke wants to push more money directly to schools. While the council welcomes extra help for school budgets this could leave nothing for other council services.
of the way central government grants are calculated, Wandsworth currently
stands to receive no increases in general funding next year. This
money is used to support scores of local services including those for
vulnerable groups such as the elderly and the disabled. The only
Mr Raynsford has already warned councils that he may cap any hefty tax increases next year. Yet his department is the one responsible for setting the amount of grant local authorities receive.
The council estimates that an increase of one per cent in general grant is needed for non-education services to contain council tax increases below 10 per cent. Now Cllr Lister has called on the two ministers to resolve the contradictions in their different policies and ensure that Wandsworth is treated fairly:
"Ministers can't use the extra money for schools as an excuse to allow us no increases in funding for other equally vital services, nor can they expect us to keep council tax increases down when the biggest single factor is the amount of grant we get from central government.
Raynsford is on record as saying that he will use his powers to cap
council tax bills - even in excellent authorities, but
it would be reckless for any minister to create the financial
"We are asking for flexibility. Just another one per cent increase in grant would make all the difference."
The education secretary wants overall grant increases to at least match the money being 'passported' to schools. In this way he hopes to present this as genuinely new money which will not have to paid for out of higher council tax bills.
It is because Wandsworth is a 'floor' authority under the current grants formula - receiving only the minimum level of increase - that it fears the schools cash will be the only extra money available to Wandsworth.
21st September 2003
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