Kirklees councillors and MPs are lobbying government for a fair funding deal as Kirklees Council continues to grapple with its finances.
In a joint letter to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up Housing and Communities, councillors from three political parties represented on Kirklees Council alongside two of the borough’s MPs, are demanding changes to the way Whitehall funds are distributed to councils across England.
The letter urges the government to take urgent action against the “structural underfunding issues” impacting councils like Kirklees. It continues to criticise the current funding system describing it as “outdated”, “opaque” and working against councils with high levels of need.
The letter concludes: “It is not right or sustainable, for further unfairness to persist in the funding of local government. It amplifies the many existing challenges we face, it penalises our residents every day, and it levels down communities across our country.
“There has never been a more critical moment for the government to seize the initiative and support local authorities to deliver the vital services our communities rely on. If not now, when?”
This action follows an Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report showing that council services receive less funding in Kirklees than in more affluent areas like Buckinghamshire and Surrey as well as being well below the national average. According to the IFS, across all council services, Kirklees receives 4.4% less funding than the national average.
The councillors and MPs are now asking the Secretary of State to implement the results of a government review into funding which began in 2016 so that areas like Kirklees are treated fairly. They are also asking for immediate changes to the formula used by government to fund councils and say that even a minor, technical, change to the current system would have provided Kirklees with an additional £16.5M in the last financial year.
Cllr Cathy Scott, Leader of Kirklees Council, said: “Councils across the country are facing serious financial challenges. In Kirklees, our issues are compounded by a funding system that penalises local residents every year. We are setting out changes the government can make now to address the problem while we wait for a long-term solution that genuinely reflects the needs of our communities.
“Every year, millions of pounds in central government funding are diverted away from areas like Kirklees to councils with completely different challenges to us. The government even launched a Fair Funding review in 2016 because the problem was becoming so acute. It’s way past time for this injustice to end.
“I’m pleased that Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green councillors, and our Labour MPs have been able to come together to speak with one voice for Kirklees.”
The matter of fair funding was raised at last week’s Full Council meeting, where Cllr Scott said that Kirklees residents and council staff shouldn’t be paying the price for the “government’s economic incompetence” and “more than a decade of failure to tackle the country’s most pressing issues”.
Cllr Scott warned that it will be “painful” to make the necessary savings to get the council out of its financial predicament. The council is already implementing measures including a freeze on all non-essential spending and recruitment, reviewing its capital programme and making up to 750 members of its workforce redundant. However, the leader says the council needs to go further in its money-saving measures due to the scale of the financial challenge.