Norfolk leaders want better deal from government to protect key services from brunt of future cuts

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

Norfolk councils are to be allowed to keep more money raised from business rates, but cash-squeezed leaders warn a better long-term deal is needed or services will suffer.

Paul Kendrick, Norwich city councillor. Pic: Archant Library.

Paul Kendrick, Norwich city councillor. Pic: Archant Library. - Credit: Archant

Norfolk is one of 15 English areas picked to take part in a pilot scheme to explore if allowing councils to keep 75pc of business rates could spur economic growth.

They currently only get to keep 50pc and have to hand the rest to the government. Norfolk could benefit from an extra £8m through the pilot.

Communities secretary James Brokenshire announced the Norfolk pilot would run from April 2019 to April 2020 in the provisional local government finance settlement. That details how much money councils can expect to get from central government.

If the trial is a success, then the government could make it a permanent measure - at a time when Whitehall is pulling the revenue support grant it gives to councils completely.

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Norfolk County Council, budgeting for a 2.99pc council tax increase next year, this week agreed to lobby the government to phase that grant out over a longer period.

And leader Andrew Proctor said: 'Our grant from government is marginally more than our expectations. Our finance team will be examining the details over the next few days so we can get a better picture of how this will work for us.

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'We still want government to recognise our pressures and ensure new funding streams as part of the Fair Funding Review and our share of business rates give us more certainty so that we can continue to deliver high class services in the future. A diminishing grant approach is not sustainable.

'We recognise the national financial pressures and want to put forward a different way to help us and help government.'

County Hall is due to get £243.8m in 2019/20, which is down from £248.7m in 2018/19 - which equates to a 1.9pc reduction for a council already looking to make £79m of savings by 2021/22.

Paul Kendrick, cabinet member for resources at Norwich City Council, which is consulting on a 2.99pc increase in its share of council tax, said: 'This settlement most certainly does not herald an end to austerity. It doesn't address the fact that local councils, nationally, have lost an average of 60pc of their government funding in the last 10 years. And that cannot go on.'

A spokeswoman for West Norfolk Council, said: 'Our settlement is pretty much in line with what we expected.

'We are pleased that the government has listened in respect of the cost of delivering services in rural areas and appreciate that we have seen an increase in our rural services delivery grant allocation.'

A spokesman for Broadland District Council said: 'The settlement is roughly in line with what we were expecting and have planned for.

'We welcome the government's decision not to increase the New Homes Bonus threshold again next year and the good news for Norfolk as a whole is that our application to be part of the government's business rates pilot has been accepted.'

Philip Cowen, executive member for finance and delivery at Breckland Council said the settlement was 'much as expected', but welcomed the business rates pilot.

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