Council has to wait after funding plea

NORTH Somerset Council leaders are waiting to see whether a trip to Westminster has helped them renegotiate their unfavourable Government financial grant.

The delegation, which was led by leader Councillor Nigel Ashton, met Local Government Minister Baroness Hanham on January 11 to discuss the settlement that had left the council �4.9million worse off than expected.

The meeting came a day after Cllr Ashton had been part of a panel of Conservative council leaders who met Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss a wide variety of issues affecting councils.

The council had originally been working towards making savings of �12.6million for the coming financial year, but was then set a revised target of �17.5million following the settlement announcement in October.

Cllr Ashton said: “We made the point that we are a high performing, low funded and low spending authority at the forefront of implementing Government policy with a strong political and managerial leadership which is not afraid to take tough decisions and make difficult choices.

“We have been badly treated by the settlement and we accept the need for North Somerset to pay its share towards the inherited national deficit, but this should not be a disproportionate amount.

“We asked the minister to consider in the short term addressing anomalies in the changes in how funding is distributed and in the medium term to provide incentives for good performance.

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“We also asked to see the removal of ‘damping’ where part of our grant is removed and re-distributed to other councils.”

Along Cllr Ashton at the meeting were executive member for finance Cllr Tony Lake, chief executive officer Graham Turner and director of finance and resources Phil Hall.

The savings the council have to make over the next four years has now increased from �42.4million to �47.3million, making up 31 per cent of the council’s budgeted spending on services.

The council’s final budget will be set on February 22.

Cllr Ashton has been named as part of the newly-formed Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), a group of businessmen and council leaders charged with leading the North Somerset and Bristol area out of recession.

The LEP replaces the South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA), and has the job of creating almost 100,000 new jobs and bringing �1billion worth of investment to the region.

The new group is set to remain as an interim body until the SWRDA is officially disbanded in March.