Government gives leafy Surrey £24m, while Preston gets a big fat zero

Preston Town Hall

Preston Town Hall

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Preston has received nothing from a £300m government pot to help cash-strapped councils - while southern shires receive millions.

The “transitional funding” was announced by Westminster to soften the impact of council cuts, but leaders have blasted the Government for neglecting Lancashire.

Councils are facing massive budget cuts, putting major services in jeopardy, and County Hall chiefs will debate savings worth £65m on Thursday.

But Lancashire County Council will receive a total of just £2.3m from the grant - which they say is likely to be offset by cuts to other funding - while Preston Council is in line for nothing.

The £150m-a-year transitional fund has been created to help councils cope with the phasing out of the government’s revenue support grant, and will give £9m to Oxfordshire, £18.7m to Hampshire, and £24.1m to Surrey.

But Preston Council, Blackpool Council, and Lancaster Council are all to receive zero funding.

South Ribble Council will get £200,000 over the two years of 2016/17 and 2017/18. Wyre Council will receive £20,000, Chorley Council willl receive £60,000 and Ribble Valley Council will receive £40,000.

Coun Martyn Rawlinson, Preston Council’s cabinet member for resources, said: “I am absolutely fuming about it because more than 80 per cent of the transitional grant is going to Conservative-controlled councils who have done better out of the local government settlements since 2010 than we have.

“I’m speechless. It’s absolutely vicious and cynical. This is clearly ideological government policy to move funding away from the north to the south, from the poor to the wealthy.”

Coun Rawlinson said Preston needed a “fairer settlement compared to other authorities”.

He said: “We are being short changed at every turn and what it’s going to mean is council tax payers in Preston are going to lose everything good about our service and just be left with absolute basics.

“Yet the council tax will keep going up because we have no choice but to raise it 1.99 per cent that they let us, just to survive and avoid going bankrupt.

“The situation they are putting northern councils in is diabolical.”

Coun Neil Cartwright, Preston Council’s Conservative group leader, said: “I think it’s a shame, because it makes our job even more challenging.

“The big question is the business rates and what happens to that.

“I honestly don’t know whether we are unfairly treated or not because, without looking at personal circumstances around the country and looking at the criteria, it’s very difficult to say Preston has fared worse.

“My concerns are the uncertainty about the business rates and the unfairness that Preston council tax payers pick up the tab for facilities that benefit a wider area.”

Under the transitional fund, announced by secretary of state for communities and local government Greg Clark, Lancashire County Council will receive £1.108m in 2016/17 and £1.154m in 2017/18.

But finance chiefs say reductions to the Education Services Grant look likely to offset the extra money.

They say the finalised local government settlement will still leave the council £11m worse off than anticipated.

The provisional figures published last month showed a £303.3m reduction in central government support for the county council over the period 2016/17 to 2019/20.

County Coun David Borrow, deputy leader of the County Council, said: “We have been lobbying central government very hard to try to secure more money for Lancashire. The finalised figures reveal that while some councils have been given more money, particularly county councils in the south, Lancashire’s position is no better off.

“This leaves the county council in a very difficult financial position, unprecedented in its severity, and makes it very difficult to maintain the services that people rely on.

“Even before this final announcement, we knew that the council will not have sufficient financial resources to meet its statutory obligations by April 2018, based on current spending levels and demand for services.

“Over the next two years, the council will need to rely heavily on spending its reserves in order to balance its budget, and that money can only be spent once.

“And we know we will still have to find a further £200m in savings by 2020/21.

“Our main priority will remain to protect services for the most vulnerable people in society, who cannot get by without the council’s support, but even doing that will be ever more challenging in the next few years.”

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “This Government is providing a long-term funding settlement for the first time allowing local authorities to plan with certainty.

“Councils will have almost £200 billion to spend on local services, including a £3.5billion social care package, over the lifetime of this parliament.

“More than half the councils in Lancashire receive transitional funding totalling nearly £3million, and will have over £4billion core spending power between now and 2019/20.”