Council chiefs head to Westminster over Government settlement

NORTH Somerset Council bosses have travelled to Westminster to put their case forward after saying they were ‘badly treated’ by the recent Government financial settlement.

A council delegation led by leader Councillor Nigel Ashton met a local government minister in London on Tuesday to discuss the settlement, which saw the council having to deal with �4.9million less of funding than expected.

Cllr Ashton had been expecting to talk to minister Bob Neill at Tuesday’s meeting, but he was replaced by Government colleague Baroness Hanham due to illness.

The council had been working towards a saving target of �12.6million for the financial year 2011/2012, but after a revised target of �17.5million was handed down as part of the settlement, council executives have been trying to identify extra ways of making cuts.

Cllr Ashton said: “We made the point that we are a high performing, low funded and low spending authority at the forefront of implementing Government policy with a strong political and managerial leadership which is not afraid to take tough decisions and make difficult choices.

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“We have been badly treated by the settlement and we accept the need for North Somerset to pay its share towards the inherited national deficit, but this should not be a disproportionate amount.

“We asked the minister to consider in the short term addressing anomalies in the changes in how funding is distributed and in the medium term to provide incentives for good performance.

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“We also asked to see the removal of ‘damping’ where part of our grant is removed and re-distributed to other councils.”

Along Cllr Ashton at the meeting were executive member for finance Cllr Tony Lake, chief executive officer Graham Turner and director of finance and resources Phil Hall.

The savings the council have to make over the next four years has now increased from �42.4million to �47.3million, making up 31 per cent of the council’s budgeted spending on services.

The council will now wait for a formal response from the Government to the points raised at the meeting.

The council’s final budget will be set on February 22.

Cllr Ashton has also been named as part of the newly-formed Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), a group of businessmen and council leaders charged with leading the North Somerset and Bristol area out of recession.

The LEP replaces the South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA), and has the job of creating almost 100,000 new jobs and bringing �1billion worth of investment to the region.

The new group is set to remain as an interim body until the SWRDA is officially disbanded in March.

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