My latest column in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald and the Wiltshire Times.
If you mention England’s local government finance system to most people in the pub they will look at you with, at best, a vacant expression but, please bear with me, the funding of our local councils is enormously important to our lives as councils provide vital services including social care, local infrastructure and social housing.
A central focus has left England’s local government finance system, already rife with inefficiency and inequality, on the verge of collapse.
In December the government released a proposal that I should would ‘vastly favour urban areas of the country and that rural counties, such as Wiltshire, would lose out’. Wiltshire residents were being forced to make far greater savings than in urban areas.
The net result was that over a four-year period, there would have been a 39.9% reduction in the amount of money that Wiltshire receives from the government, compared to an average cut of 19% for urban areas.
In January I wrote to the Prime Minister to say that I found the settlement unacceptable and could not support the proposals. I also met the Secretary of State for Local Government to ensure he knew how strongly I felt.
I was therefore pleased that on Monday an announcement was made that because of pressure from local MPs, Wiltshire will receive almost £10 million in additional funding. I know this has been warmly welcomed by local residents and I am delighted that the government listened to the protests that I and other MPs made. Wiltshire will have £10million extra to spend on local services, and I am pleased that I was able to help achieve that.
In future, the additional freedom to raise money for social care and full retention of business rates will help Wiltshire deliver services locally, but I want the government to go even further. I want to see even greater powers for local government over budgets, local control over tax rates, including discounts to stimulate town centre improvements.
I firmly believe that the best decisions are made locally, not by Whitehall bureaucrats who have no roots in our communities. There is abundant evidence to suggest that the more decentralised local government is, the more efficient it is too, so I will continue to call for more funding for Wiltshire and less central government interference in local communities. I believe that local people are best placed to make local decisions. Communities should be trusted to do what is right for their area.