High time for a proper debate over funding for Norfolk’s councils - as tax hikes are not the answer

Council tax bills are going up again. Picture: Denise Bradley

Council tax bills are going up again. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2012

This is a critical time of year for our local councils.

It's the point at which councillors have been agreeing their budgets for the forthcoming year… and beyond.

It's becoming an increasingly hazy memory for me, but I think I can remember a time when setting council budgets wasn't all about savings and cuts.

Budgets were presented then as opportunities to invest in Norfolk, not as a nightmarish battle to balance the books in the wake of reduced government funding.

These days, budgets are full of words like 'transformation', 'efficiencies' and 'realignment'.

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That generally means spending less money on services and people losing their jobs.

Councils have rightly been criticised when they have spent too much and made costly mistakes.

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There clearly was a need to make them more efficient and, to be fair, many of our local councils have made considerable savings by finding smarter ways to do things.

But how long can that go on until services really start to suffer?

Organisations such as Equal Lives say that is already happening and has been for some years, with disabled people not getting the services they should.

And Norwich City Council chief executive Laura McGillivray recently warned her council, which has tried to head off frontline service cuts despite making millions of pounds of savings, could have to cut services in the years ahead.

She says City Hall has pretty much run out of options to make more efficiencies.

These are grim warnings which we should not ignore.

We may criticise our councils for some of their decisions, but few would take issue with the sound reason for their existence.

Essentially, they are there to provide us with services, be that emptying our bins, looking after elderly people or protecting vulnerable children.

To do that, they need resources. The extra money from a council tax rise for social care is not a long-term solution to that problem.

There's plenty of talk at the moment about the NHS, but the future of our local councils is another essential debate which needs to be had.

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