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Lack of Government funding will widen gaps rather achieve levelling up warns Sefton Council Leader

Cllr Ian Maher
Council Leader Cllr Ian Maher

Sefton Council leader, Cllr Ian Maher has responded to a forecast by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) that Council tax could need to rise by up to 5% a year for the next three years.

Cllr Maher told yesterday’s Sefton Council Cabinet meeting that if the Government continued to push social care costs on to local authorities and rely on Council Tax rises to fund vital local; services, it would widen disparities between area rather than achieve any levelling up.

Forecast

The IFS forecast says said under government spending plans, a rise of at least 3.6% on council tax bills will be needed annually to keep services at pre-pandemic levels. But the report says rises of up to 5% are likely owing to extra cost pressures and demand on councils. are more likely to see bills rise by up to 5% through to 2024/25.

Additionally, the IFS claimed the government’s recently-announced social care policies will cost £5 billion a year in the long term, which is almost three times the funding that has been allocated over the next three years.

England’s councils face almost £8 billion of extra cost pressures of by 2024/25 just to keep vital local services running at today’s levels, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.

The LGA’s analysis says the £8 billion figure is about addressing new pressures councils will face in the next three years. It does not include what it calls ‘the very real pressures that councils are facing here and now such as paying care workers a fair wage or investing in the early intervention services which help families and young people falling into crisis’.

Hardest hit

Cllr Maher said: “As the country emerges from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic and areas such as Sefton that have been among the hardest hit, start to recover, we are facing enormous financial pressures.

“These are a result of a legacy of Government cuts and then a failure of ministers to provide sufficient support during rh pandemic, despite their claims at the beginning of this crisis, that they would do “whatever it takes” to support communities.

“It is now becoming clear that the government’s plan for tackling existing pressures and the growing costs of social care is through Council Tax and the new social care precept.

“As the research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the LGA have shown this is going to leave people facing significant rises in Council tax at the same time as they are having to deal with increasing household fuel costs, rising prices in the shops and the Government’s £20 per week cut in Universal Credit uplift yesterday.”

In a recent letter to Sefton residents Cllr Maher wrote: ‘we’ve always managed our budget to the highest standard despite having to make over £233m of savings over the last 10 years’.

Demand

In his letter, Cllr Maher said that all councils had seen a rise in demand for services as well as a drop in income from fees and charges and reductions in council tax and business rates and that Sefton Council had been calling on Government for months to deliver the resources needed to provide vital support and services to residents.

He wrote: ‘The Government will have you believe that they are making £1 billion of funding available for local authorities for social care. What they won’t tell you is that £700 million of that comes from allowing councils to increase Council Tax’.

Safeguarding

Cllr Maher called on the Government to make safeguarding vital local services for the long term, a priority for the Chancellor’s Spending Review later this month.

He said: “If Minsters have any real commitment to levelling up society, as they keep claiming, providing robust and sustained funding for our services needs to be at the heart of it, rather than relying on people in already hard-hit areas to foot the bill themselves.

“We are already building back in Sefton but if the government doesn’t support us with long-term investment Boris Johnson’s claims this week to be building back better will be seen as nothing more than political posturing and sloganeering.”