£22m shortfall to squeeze services

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Norfolk's essential services could be squeezed once again after financial experts warned that the county faced a £22m government funding shortfall next year.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

Norfolk's essential services could be squeezed once again after financial experts warned that the county faced a £22m government funding shortfall next year.

Early calculations suggest Norfolk County Council will endure its annual round of “difficult choices” to maintain the level of services in areas including schools, care homes and roads maintenance.

The warning comes as the council seeks to lobby ministers to reconsider changes to funding for roads maintenance which could see Norfolk lose more than £2m a year in government cash.

The county is the biggest loser under the new formula being put forward by the Department for Transport, and this week there was cross party support to lobby ministers against the changes.

Council leader Daniel Cox said: “We're looking at a shortfall in the region of £22m for the year 2008/9. There's some difficult financial decisions to be taken.”

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Council departments were being advised to plan their services on the basis of a forecast 2.3pc increase in their funding - some way short of the true increase in costs. Departments may yet face a more “pessimistic forecast” if funding turned out less.

The squeeze comes as a report shows that the inequalities in government funding meant that counties such as Norfolk are subsidising some of the country's richest local authorities in areas such as social services.

The government previously recognised there was an anomaly in the way social services funding was calculated and agreed a new formula based on need during 2005.

But changes were not implemented because ministers felt that the councils being overpaid needed time to adjust.

Now the Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities within the Local Government Association (SIGOMA), who carried out the research, is campaigning for fair allocation of grants based on need.

The report said that Norfolk was £32.4m adrift of where it would be if ministers had funded the county as originally promised in 2005.

Stephen Houghton, chairman of SIGOMA said: “We understand that change needs to be gradual but it

also needs to be fair. Despite the acknowledgement by government that our member authorities need higher social services funding, we have not seen any real increase since the new formula was agreed two years ago.”

Chris Mowle, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for adult social services, said switching funds from the NHS to social services would help bridge the gap.”

“This is something we have been thumping the table about for a long time,” he added.

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