Funding formula blamed as Flintshire Council struggles to balance books
The leader of Flintshire Council has criticised the formula used to calculate how much money it receives to provide services as it struggles to balance its books.
It was announced last month that the local authority would be given more than £19m extra in its provisional revenue settlement for the next financial year, taking the total up to approximately £232m .
While the figure represents a 9.2 per cent increase on the current year, it places the county third from bottom out of the 22 Welsh councils in terms of the amount it receives per person who lives in the area.
The authority previously estimated it would need £20.7m to plug the gap in its budget, but that amount is expected to rise substantially due to other decisions made by the Welsh Government.
It includes a move to pay social care staff the “real living wage” of £9.90 an hour, a salary increase for teachers and the impending closure of a Covid support fund for councils.
Flintshire’s Labour leader Ian Roberts said he was grateful to ministers in Cardiff for the overall uplift.
However, he said the method for calculating how much each council receives would leave it facing a challenge to set a balanced budget.
He said: “If we were resourced at the average of north Wales, it would be £21m extra per year that we would be getting.
“We are actually bottom of the counties in north Wales, and it comes down to external finance per head.
“Ten years of austerity, and the kind of crippling cuts that were made during that time, have had their impact and leave our reserves at one of the lowest levels in Wales.
“Therefore, we don’t have that as a cushion which other authorities do have.
“If we were funded the same as the best authority in north Wales, I think the figure is £51m.”
In December, Rebecca Evans, Welsh Minister for Finance and Local Government, described the funding allocation as a “good settlement”.
According to the government, the formula used to determine how much each authority receives is calculated on a needs basis.
The factors considered for each area include population, levels of deprivation, the number school pupils and the length of the road network.
But Cllr Roberts said he believed the formula, which was first introduced when devolution began in Wales, was in need of reviewing.
He said: “What we see today is the outworking of 25 years of the funding formula.
“Flintshire is relatively economically prosperous, although we do have levels of deprivation along the whole length of the of the Dee Estuary and some pockets inland as well.
“Rurality is also important because it means you’re likely to have a lot of smaller primary schools and probably small high schools as well, whereas our schools tend to be bigger.
“Our argument is that if the people at the top of the funding formula get ten per cent and the people at the bottom of the funding formula get ten per cent, the gap between the top and bottom widens.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said it was providing the “best possible settlement” for local authorities, which will receive an average increase of 9.4 per cent in 2022/23.
They said: “The settlement funding provided will enable local government to plan to deliver the real living wage for care as well as ensuring hard-working staff receive well-deserved pay rises.
“We fully recognise the pressures local authorities are facing and will continue to work closely with local government to meet our shared challenges.”
The authority has until February to respond to the provisional settlement.
A meeting of all councillors in Flintshire will be held to approve a budget for the next financial year during the same month.
Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).
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