Councillor Matt Rodda set the scene during Reading Borough Council’s performance of ‘the best we can do in the circumstances‘ on Tuesday 21 February with a question to the council leader, Jo Lovelock.
Could the leader of the council give an update on the scale of the cuts in the revenue support grant faced by Reading Borough Council since 2010, and how these cuts compare with those faced by other local authorities, in particular how they compare with neighbouring authorities in Berkshire? [at 00:33:45]
Councillor Lovelock had prepared a formal response which she read to the meeting. She explained that grant figures were only directly comparable since 2013/14 when the current system of central government’s revenue support grant (RSG) funding was introduced. Figures for Reading and neighbouring authorities were set out in a table as below, including the per head loss of grant.
The figures show that Reading has lost £185 per head since 2013/14 and Slough has lost £182 per head. By 2019/20, the two towns are forecast to continue to have the largest, and fairly similar, loss of RSG per head in the area.
The rules of the game are that the questioner can ask a supplementary question, so councillor Rodda then asked:
…why she believes that Reading has fared so badly compared with other neighbouring authorities and also why she thinks the two Reading MPs have failed to lobby for Reading.
This gave the leader the opportunity to list such reasons as an overture to arguments that would be repeated later in the performance that explain why Reading has been so badly disadvantaged.
Recent events in Surrey demonstrate that favours have been done to particular councils… Metropolitan and tight urban areas have suffered under this government’s cuts regime… No doubt that Labour authorities have been targeted for greater loss in grant… They got rid of any needs based analysis… they just look at per head of population and those of us who have those urban area type needs have suffered the worst, and by and large they tend to be Labour councils.
The elephant in the room throughout until the final agenda item was Surrey County Council. Councillors wanted to know what agreement Surrey had made with the government which meant that they did not have to hold a local referendum on a proposal to increase council tax by 15%.
Councillor Isobel Ballsden quoted figures showing not how much Reading and other councils had lost, as in table above, but how much Reading and two neighbouring councils received: Reading £236.55 per head, Wokingham £81.07 and West Berkshire £130.96.
These figures were included in a press article which the councillor tweeted at 19:51 on 21 February, apparently in the middle of the council meeting, which originated from Wokingham’s 2017/18 financial plan. The amounts quoted are the settlement funding assessment which is made up of RSG and the share of business rates which a council is able to keep.
Consequently, although the two sets of figures are both valid they are not directly comparable.
Councillor Lovelock did not actually answer the part of the question about Reading’s MPs (Alok Sharma and Rob Wilson), but they, and their perceived lack of support for Reading council, were mentioned on several occasions during the evening.
Councillor Rodda also asked the lead councillor for transport, strategic environment and planning, Tony Page about the south and east Reading mass transport schemes.
- Reading Borough Council meeting 21 February 2017 – papers
- 21 February 2017 – Questions from councillors
- 21 February 2017 – Fair funding for local councils
- Surrey County Council – council tax 2017-18
- Reading Borough Council meeting 21 February 2017 – webcast
- Medium term financial plan 2017/18 – Wokingham
- A guide to the local goverment funding assessment in England