A big thank you to all those residents who have already written to their MP and to Michael Gove, the secretary of state for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, to support Wokingham Borough Council's campaign for fair funding from central government.
The council, as many of you will be aware, is experiencing severe financial pressures due to the high inflation, high interest rates, and increasing demand for our services that have been a feature of the last eighteen months.
But these serious challenges are made far worse by the poor deal that the council has had from central government over many years. Wokingham receives less core support per head of population from government than any other unitary authority in the country (unitary authorities are responsible for the full range of council services, including children's and adult social care). We do receive some other government funds, but only through a competitive process of bidding for money to support particular projects - that additional money is by no means guaranteed, and we cannot plan on the basis that we will receive it.
The reliable, core funding that Wokingham does receive is £30 million a year less than the average unitary authority - that's £400 per household less than the average. If we received even half of the difference between our current position and that of the average unitary, we would have been spared many of the difficult decisions about savings and income generation that we have been forced to make over the last eighteen months.
Wokingham's inadequate core funding is a result of the government's funding formula, which directs most support to those councils that have the highest levels of recorded deprivation. Wokingham, which is perceived to be a wealthy area, is therefore very low on the government's agenda.
The government's funding formula assumes that because the borough has relatively few people judged to be in poverty, everyone else is well off. That is not the case. Wealth in the borough is not evenly distributed; there are some very well-off people, but many more who are in financial difficulties or just about managing.
An even more serious flaw in the system of allocating government funding to councils is that it takes very little account of demand for complex and expensive provision of care for children and adults in need. Rises in demand for children's and adult services have to be paid for locally, by the council tax (which is capped below the level of inflation) and by revenue generated from fees and charges, and by savings and efficiencies in the way we deliver services generally.
We are not asking for special favours, or denying the need to give most to those councils with higher levels of deprivation than Wokingham. But we are asking for a fairer deal that takes account of the increasing demand for (and the rising cost of providing) adult and children's services.
If you can add your voice to our campaign for fair funding, we hope it will persuade the government to establish a new funding formula for supporting local councils, which recognizes the real costs of running a local authority and takes full account of local needs in adult and children's services.
You can find more information on our campaign, including a template letter to send to local MPs and to Mr Gove, at https://www.wokingham.gov.uk/news/2023/campaign-fair-funding-deal-help-us-get-boroughs-voice-heard.
Cllr Stephen Conway