Inflation-busting increases in spending on vital services are being planned by Devon County Council – despite not being certain how much money they will get from Central Government next year.
The authority’s ruling Cabinet on Wednesday agreed a draft budget which will see a rise of 6.4 per cent in spending on children’s services, adult care and roads across the county.
It will mean an extra £16 million for adult care and health, £9 million more for children’s services and £1.7 million for highways.
In total the council’s spending will rise by £31.8 million from £498 million in 2019/20 to nearly £530 million in 2020/21.
Councillor Stuart Barker, cabinet member for finance, though said that there were still unknowns as to exactly what the budget would be and how much their settlement from Central Government would be, but it was a fair idea of the ballpark figure they expect.
He added: “The Provisional Settlement was scheduled to be published in December with hope it would arrive early in the month. The uncertainty is of course much broader than simply timing.”
He was speaking ahead of the General Election and before it was known that there was a Conservative majority and Government, but said: “It is hard to imagine that whichever party wins the election that they will have the time or capacity to do anything with the Local Government Settlement that is very different from current proposals. The risk however remains.
“Due to the unprecedented level of uncertainty around the Provisional Settlement content, and timing, there is an increased likelihood that the Targets set out below will be amended at the Cabinet meeting in January.
“We are underfunded, not overspending, as the demand is getting greater and people are being looked after who have more complex needs.”
He added that the Cabinet had delayed its January meeting so that changes could be made if necessary, and said: “I am fairly confident this represents a fair view of what the budget will look like, given what we know now.
“If we can improve the budget after we get our final figures from the Government then we certainly will.”
Councillor John Hart, leader of the council, said that he would be sending a letter of all of Devon’s MPs to invite them to come and meet with him so he can explain exactly what the council does and that the impact that national government has on local government.
Cllr Hart added: “I am writing to all our MPs to congratulate them on their election and wish them every success in representing this wonderful county.
“I will also be arranging to meet them to talk about what Devon County Council does for their constituents and what we need from central government.
“It is vitally important that local government works effectively with national government for the benefit of all our residents.”
Spending and local government funding
But Cllr Alan Connett, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, called for all the group leaders to send a joint letter to the Government, demanding that Local Government goes to the front of the queue for funding.
Councillor Rob Hannaford, Leader of the Labour group, added: “The fact is Devon County Council has been effectively in political limbo for years. The ongoing uncertainty around Brexit, a no majority government, and a complete lack of national leadership on the key issues facing local government, has resulted in the council being unable to properly plan in financial and organisational real terms.
“Yet again we are still awaiting our financial settlement for next year, with many key areas unaccounted for. If we are not adequately funded, the worst is yet to come , in terms of cuts to services, as the government further reduces local authority funding overall.
“The fact is there is simply not enough money today to run vital services. We may soon come to a point where the council would have to consider whether it can operate safely with regard to its responsibilities to vulnerable children and adults.”
The Capital Programme for 2020/21 to 2024/25 will be presented to Cabinet at the February Budget meeting, and the revenue spending targets for 2020/21 were also approved, although with a hope a revised Provisional Settlement will be received in sufficient time to report to the next meeting of Cabinet in January.