COMMENT: Prime Minister's Questions does not pay the bills despite Ashby MP raising county funding issue
By Graham Hill
1st Apr 2021 | Opinion
Leicestershire is owed a pay rise and has been for some time, according to pretty much all of the politicians who represent the county.
The county council is in the unfortunate position of being the lowest funded authority of its kind in the country.
'Fairer funding' is a phrase that has floated around for years, but despite lengthy discussions, some at the top level of government, it's yet to be achieved.
"The PM will be pleased but not surprised that Leicestershire County Council has for the last three years been the most productive county authority in the country despite also being the lowest funded," Mr Bridgen said.
"Can my Right Honourable Friend assure all of the residents of Leicestershire that our Conservative-controlled county council will imminently benefit from fairer funding and the Government's levelling up agenda so that it can continue to deliver excellent public services?"
The Prime Minister replied: "I thank Leicestershire County Council for the way they're conducting themselves and for delivering value for money, and that is what the elections coming up in May are all about.
"Invariably it is Conservatives who deliver better value, who deliver better services and lower taxes. That is what Leicestershire County Council has done and I congratulate them on it."
But a pat on the back at PMQs doesn't pay the bills – it doesn't do anything to mitigate the spiralling costs of adult social care, an expense eating up 75 per cent of the authority's yearly budget.
Nor does it do anything to address rising costs of children in care or of providing school places for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
Leicestershire residents will have seen the very real impact of the fairer funding debate when council tax demand notices dropped onto doormats recently.
In fact, Leicestershire County Council's portion has gone up by almost five per cent – the maximum increase it can implement.
The strength of feeling is so strong that Leader of the Lib Dem opposition, Councillor Simon Galton, and the Leicestershire Labour Group leader Councillor Dr Terri Eynon, both agree they too would have had to increase Council Tax if they were sat at the top table.
"I do sympathise with the Tories because there's simply no other option," Coun Galton said.
"But what we have to remember is that there is a Tory government and there has been for some time now and still Leicestershire has not won the fairer funding fight.
"It's even at the point now where council officers accept that there is little prospect of change, so where fairer funding has been considered before when the medium term financial strategy is drawn up, it's now not."
There was brief hope the Leicestershire model might be adopted when a then Junior minister seemed to understand and accept the county's arguments.
Soon after Covid took hold, and the county's efforts took a knock with the fairer funding fight pushed down the priority list.
The issue pre-dates the pandemic and the lockdown and Covid-impact has arguably magnified the financial difficulties faced by the council.
Coun Eynon said: "Unfortunately the Prime Minister did not a lot more than say well done and dodge the question which in Leicestershire we have gotten quite used to.
"Officers have put a huge amount of work into explaining how fairer funding might work but it's like they're talking to a brick wall.
"I'm extremely proud of this council's officers, the way they work and keep this show on the road with the not enough money they do get.
"Social care funding is still an unsolved problem for this government despite repeated promises it was a priority.
"The other issue is that the more the council manages to trim and trim and carry on, the more the government thinks we don't need the money.
"The real victims in this are the families of disabled people and older relatives who they look after and provide social care for while also trying to hold down jobs."