Lincolnshire

Martin Hill: What do we want? Fairer funding!

For years now, Lincolnshire has lost out on financial support from the government – and it’s time for change.

Take this year, for example, when our local councils are getting just £292 per resident, compared with £536 paid to London boroughs.

That leaves every single one of us £244 worse off, while Lincolnshire as a whole has a shortfall of £178 million.

But what difference does all this make to you as residents?

Actually, it makes a huge difference, because it has a massive impact on the quality of local services our authorities can provide.

It means far less money to repair potholes on our roads. Less to care for our growing older population. Less for local schools and children’s centres.

Imagine, too, what the county council could do in other areas – economic development, street lighting, libraries, fostering and adoption, public health, fire and rescue, to name but a few – with an extra £178 million a year.

The potential for improvements to services – for all Lincolnshire’s 738,000 residents, as well as its many businesses – would be enormous.

Instead – and as long as the current underfunding continues – Lincolnshire will remain the poor relation compared with London boroughs and other urban areas.

What’s more, we face the challenge of providing services across England’s fourth largest county – a huge geographical area.

That involves the cost of maintaining a 5,500-mile road network, as well as providing social care to a widely dispersed – and rapidly increasing – older population.

And it isn’t just a case of “town” versus “country”.

Lincolnshire is also losing out against similar shire counties, to the tune of about £45 million of “core spending power” this year.

Despite this underfunding, the county council continues to set a very low council tax – ours is currently the third lowest of all English counties.

We’ve also protected the services that matter most to residents, including safeguarding, road maintenance, flood risk management, and fire and rescue.

However, others have inevitably had to be cut or stopped altogether as our financial support from the government is reduced.

By 2020, our main grant will have fallen by 90% over a decade, at a time when it’s costing us more every year to care for older residents.

The National Living Wage, increased waste disposal charges and other cost pressures are also making it much harder to balance the books.

To meet all these challenges, as you’d expect, we’re constantly reviewing our budget to find efficiencies and other savings.

That’s enabled us to cut £288 million from our annual spending since 2011, but I believe we’re now close to the absolute limit.

We’ve even had to use £84 million from our reserves over the last five years to make ends meet, but that can’t go on much longer.

Something has to change – and that is why the council is launching a campaign calling on the government for fairer funding for Lincolnshire.

We’re not asking for special treatment – just a level playing field, enabling us to provide the quality of services Lincolnshire residents have a right to expect.

In the next edition of County News, we’ve summarised the campaign on the front page with a series of imaginary placards.

Our message to Whitehall is a simple one – and one that can no longer be ignored.

“What do we want? Fairer funding for Lincolnshire! When do we want it? Now!”