DCC Leader: Looking forward to the “certainty” of penury?

Devon County Council hopeful for funding settlement

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk 

Devon County Council bosses are hopeful of a three-year funding settlement from the government to help give them ‘certainty’ for the county’s finances.

Council leader John Hart (Conservative, Bickleigh & Wembury), said this financial year’s budget had been one of the “toughest” to set as they only knew in December how much was being provided by Whitehall.

The last two years have seen local authorities only given one-year settlements, with ministers stating Brexit and covid as reasons.

Cllr Hart said: “I would hope the government this time are promising a three-year plan for us, and if they can, then we have a better idea of where we’re going.”

He added: “It would give us a degree of certainty for the next two years after the year that you’re setting your budget. You’ve got a fair idea what the government’s going to give you – that’ll be a minimum figure. So you’ve got something settled, whereas at the present moment you haven’t got anything.

The comments echo those made last month by the county’s cabinet member for finance, Councillor Phil Twiss (Conservative, Feniton & Honiton), who said it was “incredibly hard to plan for one year, whereas previously they’d provide us with a three-year settlement” and revealed the council were lobbying for a return to that arrangement.

Last year, when the government announced another one-year deal for councils, James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Next year we need a three-year settlement and meaningful progress towards a long-term, sustainable solution to the funding crisis our adult social care services continue to face.”

In response, a spokesperson for the ministry of housing, communities and local government said: “The government believes a stable funding environment is pivotal to ensure local councils can effectively plan with early certainty.

“The last two years have had a one-year spending review, prioritising stability and financial certainty so we could focus on delivering EU Exit in 2020-21 and on tackling the pandemic in 2020-2022.

“How government determines its final approach for 2022/23 onwards will be informed by the upcoming spending review, which will be an opportunity to consider local government’s funding needs in the round.”

The leaders of the opposition Liberal Democrat and Labour groups on Devon County Council did not respond to requests for comment.