Funding carrot an ‘act of blackmail’ Great Yarmouth councillors claim
16:42 20 December 2012
HARD pressed Town Hall bosses claim they are being blackmailed into changing their leadership in order to take advantage of a much-needed pot of government cash, as they face further budget cuts.
The coalition announced this week that Great Yarmouth Borough Council could receive an extra £1.8m funding in the wake of scrapping its two-year transitional fund that left it with a 19pc cut to its budget - the biggest of any authority in the UK.
But to receive the cash boost from the newly introduced efficiency support grant, local government minister - and the town’s MP - Brandon Lewis said town hall leaders must agree to share management, a move that local Labour members pledged not to do when they were elected in May, sparking cries they are being blackmailed into getting their hands on the extra funding.
Brian Walker, deputy leader, said: “We’re doing well (in making savings) and we feel really it’s an act of blackmail by Eric Pickles (communities secretary) and Brandon Lewis to get what they want.”
Leader Trevor Wainwright described the support grant as a “carrot” and added: “I think we can put forward a compelling business case to get £1.8m but we’re still going to take a huge hit.”
Both he and Mr Walker reaffirmed their decision not to share management with Breckland and South Holland councils as they said it would only save £160,000 as they face having to make £10m worth of cuts in the next three years.
But Mr Lewis defended the support grant and said that there were other opportunities for authority’s like Yarmouth to boost their coffers, through new homes bonuses and business rates from enterprise zones.
“We’re not going to leave these councils just hanging out there, we can’t do that. But they have got to start moving towards a more modern way of working,” he said.
“We want councils to deliver the best, most efficient services they can because it’s tax payers’ money and we want to make sure local peoples’ money is being spent efficiently.”
Mr Lewis stressed that he wanted to “make sure” the people of Yarmouth got a share of the support grant to ensure a council tax freeze and hoped the borough council would “get behind” the opportunities being offered to them.
The borough council already shares legal and IT services with Norfolk County Council, as well as internal audits, and is working on slashing its budget through a staffing restructure and examining contracts.
Mr Wainwright said the authority was working to tackle budget woes and was confident it could put forward a case for a share of the support grant.
“I think the message to residents is steady as she goes, we’re addressing the problems,” he added.
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