Leader’s Column 14th March – National Budget

14 Mar 2024
Martin Wrigley

I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting from the Westminster government’s budget, but even so, I am disappointed.  Very little in what they announced will help the country, help people with the cost -of-living crisis, help the NHS or even the environment.

From the point of view of a local council, it is continuously disappointing that we struggle from year to year, with no indication of future funding levels.  In recent years the governments’ funding to local councils is less than half of what it was, and our ability to raise funds locally is also constrained by the government.

This year, we learnt just before Christmas what the funding would be, for a budget that must be set in February.  This isn’t how government used to work.  It used to be a multi-year plan of what would be funded, and so councils could plan ahead and make budgeting decisions informed by the expected amounts.

What’s worse is that the government stated in their budget their spending limits for next year, but without detailing them.  The spending review will be after the General Election this year.  Some spending is protected – such as NHS, Schools and Defence – others are not.  So the small growth in spending next year translates into an inevitable cut for local government as an unprotected department.

Because it isn’t going to be until after the election, we won’t know how much will be cut from local authority budgets until very late in the day, making it even harder to plan sensibly for the available funds.

It is clear that a full shake up of local authority funding is needed, and that some longer-term thinking is also needed.

Government funding plans for Local Authorities assumes that the Council Tax will go up by the maximum amount.  If that doesn’t happen, it works out that you get even less funds than you might expect.  Government legislation has put in place the ability to charge higher tax on empty and second homes from 2025, and Teignbridge has put in place the necessary conditions to do so.

Even so, the budget for 2025/6 is going to be tight.  Teignbridge is not alone in looking at its budget and ways of working to make sure that we are making the best of what we have. 

Maybe, just maybe, we can hope for something better after the next election.  If I could ask for one thing, I would want to see a government that encourages greater investment to build new council homes and makes it easier for councils to build them.  High quality affordable housing, cheap to rent and cheap to heat, pays back in so many ways.  Having a safe, secure and healthy place to live is a foundation for building a good life.

Wouldn’t it be nice not to be quite so disappointed after a government budget…