Martin Hill: Positive talks about Lincolnshire funding

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If you want to make things happen, it’s often best to talk to the person at the top.

That’s exactly what Lincolnshire council leaders – supported by local MPs – did last week when we had talks with the two politicians directly responsible for local government.

We spent 40 valuable minutes at the House of Commons with Sajid Javid, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, and his minister, Marcus Jones.

That enabled us to make our case for fairer funding for the county – something that we’ve missed out on for far too long.

I’m pleased to report that it was a very constructive meeting, and that Mr Javid fully recognised the strength of our arguments.

So what exactly is our case? And how did Mr Javid respond?

It’s been obvious for many years now that the way money is shared between councils across England needs a massive overhaul.

As things stand, urban areas – for example, some of the inner London boroughs – get far too big a slice of the cake compared with rural parts of the country.

Even when it comes to the county councils, Lincolnshire is close to the bottom for the amount of financial support we receive from the government.

At the moment, we’re missing out on £116 million a year – or £239 less for every household – compared with the average for English councils.

That puts local frontline services under threat as we struggle to balance the books, while other areas get better services for less council tax.

In our meeting, Mr Javid praised Lincolnshire County Council as a well-run authority providing good services, especially given our low level of financial support.

He also accepted that the current funding formula is unfair to rural areas, and stressed his personal commitment to reforming it.

As regards timescales, Mr Javid suggested that there could be further government announcements about this before the end of the year, following the Chancellor’s November budget.

However, a new funding formula won’t be in place before April 2020 at the earliest, which means no big change for at least two years.

I’m confident that the county council can find the savings we need to protect frontline services until then, despite massive reductions in our funding over the last few years.

These have come at a time of rising costs and demand for services, which are particularly expensive to provide across a big rural county like ours.

In the not-too-distant future, then, something has to change, as the government itself appears to recognise.

As I said, it’s always helpful to talk to those at the top – and I was certainly encouraged by what I heard at the House of Commons last week.

What difference could £116 million a year make?

The campaign for a fair deal for Lincolnshire has shown how local services could be transformed if the county received the average level of funding.

Extra cash on that scale could pay for a new bypass, hospital or major road improvement scheme every year.

In addition, there would still be money to fill four times as many potholes, provide fibre broadband for every business, and freeze council tax.

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