West Briton column 18 April 2013

With the local elections now in full swing, a range of debates have sprung up about Cornwall’s future. One such debate concerns Cornwall Council’s finances.

Some voices within that debate are warning of looming doom in the form of more and larger cuts to Cornwall Councils budget and insist that Council Tax rises must take place to avoid losing vital council services.

Whilst such a narrative is no doubt exhilarating for the individuals who proclaim it, it does not stand up to scrutiny. Much of the narrative is based on the Graph of Doom promoted by the Local Government Association, a lobby group that presses for more central government expenditure on local government. As is the usual practice of lobby groups, the Association have painted a doomsday scenario concerning local government finances in order to more effectively lobby for increased funding.

The real picture is quite different. Unlike the past, Chancellors can’t fiddle the numbers. Independent bodies now have access to Treasury data and provide impartial analysis. This includes central government funding for local government.

The way the Council is funded is changing. Less money will come from block grants from Westminster and more of the money raised in Cornwall will stay in Cornwall.

This process has already started, with more decisions about Council Tax being devolved to Cornwall Council. This has enabled the Council to end the Second Home Council Tax discount, bringing in an extra £4 million every year. These changes have also allowed the Council to impose an extra Council Tax charge, known as the empty home premium, on the owners of properties left empty for two or more years. In addition to the Council Tax, Cornwall Council will now keep the business rates it collects. This means that business rates from new or growing businesses will increase revenue for the Council.

Thanks to the Government’s New Homes Bonus scheme Cornwall Council is for the first time enjoying the financial benefits arising from the creation of new homes. This year alone the Council has received an additional £9.617 million of funding through the New Homes Bonus.

I support decisions about money raised in Cornwall being made in Cornwall. In addition to more money made in Cornwall being kept in Cornwall, funding from government has also been made more responsive to changing demographics.

To help the Duchy meet the needs of an ageing population the Department of Health has allocated an extra £25. 173 million between 2010 and 2014 for the integration of the Council’s adult care services with the local NHS. An extra £3.2 million has also been given to support carers. At the other end of the age scale, schools across my constituency facing rising demand have benefited from £1,385,000 of additional pupil premium funding.

So, whilst there are challenges facing Cornwall Council’s finances over the coming years, and it is good to be careful with tax payers money, it is important to remember that the Council is better placed than ever before to face them.

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