The local government finance model is broken argue senior Trafford Labour leaders as work continues deliver a balanced budget for the next financial year.
Draft proposals, tabled during the meeting of the Executive on Wednesday, detail how the authority has already reduced a £20m budget gap by £13.6m while an additional £6.4m of savings are still required.
The authority needs to present a balanced budget to Full Council in February.
The report was presented by Cllr Joanne Harding, Executive Member for Finance and Governance, who argued that the local government funding crisis had been ‘looming for years’ citing shrinking government grants, the rising cost of living, increased interest rates, inflation, and energy costs, were all the makings of a perfect storm.
“Look around the country at the number of councils that have been struggling to balance the books leaving some only being able to provide statutory services, notably several of them are Conservative-run authorities,” said Cllr Harding.
“However, here, there are significant reasons for the shortfall.
“One, is that Trafford is viewed as an affluent borough that masks considerable areas of need, which is fuelled by a failed, and unfair financial funding formula – set by central government.
“And secondly, we can look to historic policy decisions made by the previous Tory administration.
A decision to cut Sure Start and other early intervention services a decade ago has put huge pressure on our social care budgets; and a policy of freezing council tax has placed a further £14m financial strain on our budget today.”
Under current budget proposals, Council Tax would rise by 2.99pc in addition to an increase in the Social Care precept by 2pc in line with government assumptions.
Trafford would still have the second-lowest Council Tax in Greater Manchester – with Cllr Harding calling on the government for more financial help.
In a bid to lobby government, Trafford Council has joined the F20 Group with member councils demanding a temporary finance solution pending the delayed Fair Funding Review while pointing to similar local authorities who, on average, receive £11m more each year.
“Over a decade of austerity, rising demands across social care, and the continuing cost of living crisis, leaves us with minimal headroom to absorb financial pressures,” Cllr Harding added.
“However, I want to offer my assurance, along with council officers, that we will do everything in our power – and leave no stone unturned – in considering ways to balance our budgets and manage future risks.
“We will do this despite government ignoring the fact that its local council finance model is not only in crisis – it’s broken.”
Trafford Council leader, Cllr Tom Ross, expressed his concerns – and backed his colleague’s statements.
Cllr Ross said: “Local government finance certainly is a broken model – and has been for more than a decade.
“It has always been the case that Trafford receives lower funding than neighbouring councils and has a lower-than-average council tax, which means over decades we’ve accumulated one of the lowest level of reserves.
This is Trafford’s unique situation and we’re urging the government to agree a fairer funding deal.
Meanwhile, Trafford Council’s Deputy leader, Cllr Cath Hynes, agreed with her colleagues that the financial position is incredibly challenging.
“However, the set of draft budget proposals we have put together contain the necessary – and very sensible – decisions required to protect Trafford’s finances,” said Cllr Hynes.
“We are safeguarding our frontline services, children and young people, vulnerable adults, and our much-valued libraries and green spaces.
“Cleary, we are not standing still as an authority, these proposals demonstrate innovation and our ambitions to attract vital investment into the borough particularly within our towns and leisure centres, which residents are already seeing the benefits of millions of pounds worth of improvements.”