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City council on collision course with Norwich MPs over cuts

Norwich City Council is urging the government to give them more money to provide services

Norwich City Council is urging the government to give them more money to provide services

EDP pics © 2007

Leaders at Norwich City Council have condemned the amount of money the government is giving them to provide services to families next year as "inadequate" - setting City Hall on a collision course with the city's two MPs.

Worried city councillors have warned it is “inevitable” that front-line services will be “adversely affected” because the government is not giving them enough money to use next year.

But the city’s MPs have said it is time for the city council to stop “carping” and to get on with making the tough decisions, which they say have been made necessary because of the financial legacy of the previous Labour government.

With the city council due to discuss its budget within the next month - which will reveal where the axe will fall at City Hall - it emerged last night that the council has written to local government minister Grant Shapps urging him to rethink how much he plans to give them.

The government is planning to give the city council £12.2m for this coming financial year, and at a council meeting last night, councillors said that sum - £1.9m less than last year - is not enough.

Alan Waters, the council’s cabinet member for resources, performance and shared services said such a funding gap cannot be made up by efficiencies alone and “it is inevitable that front-line services will be adversely affected.”

He said a system known as damping means around £1.6m to which the council was entitled has been redistributed among other local authorities deemed to have a greater need.

While the government has given the city council a special one-off grant of £850,000, councillors say that will not solve the problem in the long run and, because so many of the homes in Norwich are in council tax bands A and B, it cannot raise significant money through council tax.

Labour put forward a motion to condemn the financial settlement as “inadequate” and to call on the city’s MPs to support the city’s efforts to get more cash.

Mr Waters said: “This is still a provisional settlement so what we are seeking is to add some weight to that submission and an endorsement from all groups will help.”

The Greens backed him, giving enough agreement for the council to agree the motion, but the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives voted against it.

And the city’s MPs also hit back. Chloe Smith, Conservative MP for Norwich North, said she was “sympathetic” to Mr Waters’ letter and would be interested to read the response, but added: “The country is in a dire situation. People are deeply concerned. That is a direct consequence of the actions of these councillors’ mates in the last government.

“Yesterday we learnt that the national debt stands at over two trillion pounds for the first time in our history. I wonder if Labour councillors even know how many zeroes that has. Norwich City Council should not be carping, but getting on and helping clear that mess up.

“I respect constructive suggestions, and welcome those when they come out of any council chamber. However, in this case we have to be realistic. This government has made sure Norwich is getting just as fair a deal as anywhere else.

“In fact, per capita, the city’s needs are recognised in the local government settlement and also in, for example, new education funding.”

And Norwich South Liberal Democrat MP Simon Wright said; “The Labour government left behind the biggest budget deficit in peacetime history, the burden of which is now falling on all publicly funded authorities including Norwich City Council.

“Failure to address the deficit would be catastrophic for the country, but it does mean tough decisions have to be made in order to put things right.

“As a result, Norwich City Council, along with all other councils, is facing challenging times. The council will get a £850,000 transitional grant from the government to help it through this period.

“It will receive more funding per person than North Norfolk, South Norfolk, Broadland and Breckland councils because we have more areas of deprivation in Norwich than in many other parts of Norfolk.

“However, Norwich City Council still needs to demonstrate that it will deliver value for money to local council tax payers.

“It needs to look long and hard at the amount of money it spends on consultants, communications and the revenue lost from leaving council homes empty for weeks on end.

“The council must also work closely with other districts in Norfolk to see where further shared working opportunities can drive down costs.”

• What do you think? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk

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