Warning that Norfolk needs a fairer deal from government or frontline services will suffer

Norwich City Council leader Brenda Arthur, who is among council leaders calling for an end to auster

Norwich City Council leader Brenda Arthur, who is among council leaders calling for an end to austerity and more powers for local government. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Archant

The leaders of three councils in Norfolk have called for the government to give England's regions a fairer deal in the wake of Scottish devolution - warning that without radical reform front-line services will suffer.

Norwich City Council's Labour leader Brenda Arthur, North Norfolk District Council leader Tom FitzPatrick and Breckland District Council leader Michael Wassell are among more than a hundred local government leaders demanding an end to austerity and more money for local councils in England.

The leaders of 119 English council say that a better deal has been agreed for Scotland and now the government must do the same for councils in England.

They called on chancellor George Osborne to use his autumn statement on Wednesday to set out a 'new settlement for England' which devolves power from Westminster and shares out tax and spending across the UK 'on a fair basis'.

In an open letter sent to The Observer newspaper, the leaders state: 'After a 40pc reduction in funding during this parliament, our efficiency savings are coming to an end.

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'Further reductions without radical reform will have a detrimental impact on people's quality of life and will lead to vital services being scaled back or lost altogether.

'Services such as libraries, leisure centres and road maintenance continue to buckle under the strain of cuts and the ever-rising cost of caring for our growing elderly population.

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'Failure to address this will not only jeopardise other services, but will pass costs on to the NHS, which will have to pick up the pieces if we cannot protect adult social care or provide the services that keep people healthy.'

The letter has cross-party support. Of the signatories to the letter, 65 are Labour-controlled, 40 by the Conservatives and 10 by the Liberal Democrats.

Ms Arthur runs a Labour council while Mr FitzPatrick and Mr Wassell's councils are Conservative-led.

The letter adds: 'Last week, the Smith commission set out a better deal for Scotland, granting more control over funding and recognising the importance of devolving power down beyond Holyrood. It's England's turn now.

'There is compelling evidence that taking decisions closer to the people affected achieves better results and saves money. 'It is vital that the autumn statement sets out a new settlement for England, which puts powers beyond Westminster, and shares out tax and spending across the UK on a fair basis.

'The people we represent, who look north of the border with envy at the greater control Scots are to get over their everyday lives, will expect nothing less.'

The government's own figures show that, if annual public spending per head in Norfolk was put on an equal footing with how much is currently spent on people in Scotland, it would see almost £2bn more spent in the county each year.

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.

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

• 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

• 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.

But Local government minister Kris Hopkins warned councils could not be exempt from the continued need to find savings.

'Local government accounts for a quarter of all public spending and must play its part in paying off the deficit left by the last administration.

'Since 2010 this government has delivered a fair settlement to every part of the country while giving them greater financial independence so they can increase revenue and protect front-line services.

'All councils should be making sensible savings and keeping council tax down by merging back office services or doing more joint working.'

• Do you think Norfolk's councils need more cash and powers? Write to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, Norfolk NR1 1RE.

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