Government short changes essential services

Public services in the East of England ranging from policing to schools have been the most short-changed in the country for most of the last decade amid rising fears that the recession will only make matters worse.

Public services in the East of England ranging from policing to schools have been the most short-changed in the country for most of the last decade amid rising fears that the recession will only make matters worse.

New research has again thrown the spotlight on the raw funding deal the region gets from government showing how it gets less money per head in a range of services despite being a net contributor to the Treasury.

The report from economic consultant Stephen Lord, former director of Local Government Finance at London Councils, reveals that the East has had the worst deal from the government on funding for public services since 2002.

The findings show that in 2007/8 the region's allocation for overall public expenditure was �6,555 a head, 13pc or �980 less than the national average, and �2,500 less a head than London the highest spending region.

In 2008/9, councils in the East received �396.92 per person, compared with �537.70 per person for England, a difference of nearly �140 per person

While funding for schools and the police was also way short of national average figures.

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The East received �183.76 less per pupil in direct school funding than the English average of �4,079.88 per pupil, and low levels of police funding meant that there are 200 police officers per 100,000 of population, compared with the average for England of 266, the report claimed.

On the plus side, the report does show that the region gets an above average share of spending on science and technology.

The East of England Strategic Leaders Group, an umbrella group of top tier councils, which commissioned the report, said it provided fresh ammunition to lobby for a fairer funding deal.

But with national debt reaching a staggering �175bn and the chancellor looking at cuts and tax rises to help plug the gap and the public sector being tasked with finding a further �9bn of efficiency savings, it is difficult to see how ministers will be able to reverse previous decisions now that the money is running out.

Daniel Cox, leader of Norfolk County Council, said public bodies needed to join together to push for a fairer deal.

'This report proves beyond a shadow of doubt how very badly Norfolk and the East of England fares under the current grant system and it underlines how seriously unjust the system is and how it is in urgent need of reform,' he said. 'Public sector bodies collectively need to keep the pressure on the government and ensure that ministers are called to account to right a very clear wrong.

'This part of the world is one which is growing quickly, but the government needs to act now and ensure we are fairly funded as the growth agenda can only be delivered with appropriate infrastructure. It's the same story for our police and other vital public services - there must be action in Westminster to stop the region being short changed once and for all and ensure a fair deal in the future.'

Robert Gordon, chairman of the East of England Strategic Authority Leaders Group, said the report could leave no-one in any doubt that the region had been short changed by Westminster.

'The East is one of the few parts of the country actually making a contribution to the wealth of the nation in the past few years,' he said. 'And yet because we are productive, we have been penalised by a government which seems to blind to the pressures public services are under in one of the fastest growing regions.

'For the majority of the past few years we've been at the bottom of the pile for funding. Yet we are being expected to provide high quality services to our growing an aging population and accommodate huge amounts of new housing and growth but without any support for vital elements such as transport infrastructure.

'The situation cannot continue. The country is in a deep recession and it needs the relative economic strength of the East of England to help drive the recovery - but that will be hampered if public services continue to get a raw deal.'

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