Stark figures show pressure on Norfolk’s finances

Annual public spending per head in Scotland, where the bid to become independent led by Alex Salmond

Annual public spending per head in Scotland, where the bid to become independent led by Alex Salmond, is much higher than spent on the people of Norfolk. - Credit: PA

If annual public spending per head in Norfolk was put on an equal footing with how much is spent on people in Scotland, it would see almost £2bn more spent in the county each year.

George Nobbs

George Nobbs - Credit: Norfolk County Council

And that would be more than enough to tackle some of the biggest pressures the county, which also comes below the English average for public spending per head, is facing.

Financial pressures are leaving many organisations struggling to balance the books and that could leave taxpayers in the county with poorer services.

Among the pressures the county is facing up to include:

• Axing almost half the county's 260 police community support officer posts by 2018 to plug a £20.3 funding gap

Norwich North M.P Chloe Smith.

Norwich North M.P Chloe Smith. - Credit: Archant


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• A £189m spending gap at Norfolk County Council - which is having to be plugged by cutting services and shedding jobs, at a time when the authority is facing challenges to improve education and children's services

• Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, which provides mental health services, is slashing its budget by 20pc over four years

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• The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is coming under increased pressure to provide services in the face of ever growing demand

• The East of England Ambulance Service is reporting a £1.7m deficit for the current financial year, at the same time as the service is trying to recruit hundreds of front-line staff following criticism of performance.

All this comes at a time when the no vote to Scottish independence has led to fresh calls for an overhaul in the way public spending is worked out across the UK.

The government's own figures show spending per head in the East is just £7,865 per person each year, compared to the English average of £8,529 per person and £10,152 per head in Scotland.

Scotland's share is higher because of the Barnett Formula, which is used to work out spending in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, will remain in place.

The formula is worked out partly by the population of each of those nations and partly on which powers those nations have had devolved to them, such as health and education.

If the extra £2,287 which people in Scotland receive each year was added to the current spending per head on the 859,400 people in Norfolk, that would add £1.9bn to public spending in the county.

That's a simplistic analysis, but it does highlight the disparity at a time when the county is facing considerable pressures on its public services.

The main national party leaders have promised Scotland that the Barnett Formula, will continue.

But even the man who came up with it - Lord Barnett, who devised the formula when he was chief secretary to James Callaghan's Labour government in 1978 - says it is not fit for purpose and needs to be replaced.

A number of the region's MPs have called for the formula to be looked at as part of the ongoing talks about what happens next following Scotland's no vote.

Chloe Smith, Conservative MP for Norwich North, said: 'A formula of some kind is needed, but even Lord Barnett himself has said this one is flawed.

'The criteria were set in the 1970s, and things have moved on. Norwich's deprivation should be treated as just as important as Glasgow's. It should be looked at again in the detail.

'I will take the point to Parliament, where I will be working hard in the next few months to make sure that English people are well-served in both our representation and our fair share of the money we provide as taxpayers.'

While spending in England itself is calculated not through the Barnett Formula, but according to need, there have long been accusations that Norfolk is not getting a fair deal.

George Nobbs, leader of Norfolk County Council, said: 'This is my personal view, rather than that of the council. But I see it as intolerable that areas like parts of Great Yarmouth, Norwich and King's Lynn and deprived rural areas should be should be so disadvantaged and yet lobbed in a mad spending formula which makes no sense to anyone.

'It's ridiculous to think that, because Norfolk is close to the south east it is rich and leafy. Leafy, yes, but it is not rich. That's a lazy assumption made by Whitehall and Westminster and the belief that London knows best is exactly why there are so many calling for devolution.

'But the idea of English MPs meeting in private once a week to discuss English affairs is not devolution. They are the very last people many in this country would trust.

'And the idea of giving northern cities powers is not the answer either. Why should they be given powers and the rest of England left to its own devices?'

If spending on the 115,300 people in Waveney was increased to bring it in line with what Scotland gets, it would increase public spending in the district by an extra £263m a year.

• What do you think? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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