Local Government Finance Settlements

This week's announcement of the Local Government Finance Settlement is once again bad news for West Sussex.

Despite an average rise of 3.8 per cent in next year's grant from central to local government, we will receive only 2.7 per cent, the lowest of England's 34 counties. This is the fifth consecutive year that West Sussex has received the lowest possible increase in grant.

Our local authorities will doubtless attempt to make efficiencies, and so they should. But if they are repeatedly penalised with poor financial settlements, they will either have to cut services or once again pass the burden on to the local council tax payer - or both.

In West Sussex, the average Band D Council Tax bill passed the £1,000 mark for the first time this year. Nationally the typical household now pays £500 more than in 1997, with council tax bills having increased at three times the rate of inflation and twice that of average earnings.

Many of those on low and fixed incomes are already struggling to cope with the existing combination of high council tax levels and rocketing utility bills, and will be further hit by any increase. Gordon Brown's discount for pensioners' council tax bills was cynically introduced at the election and almost immediately then withdrawn.

Those who do not have access to a car and who rely on the train to go work will also be clobbered by this week's announcement of above inflation fare increases on the railways.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the current funding arrangements for local government are unsustainable. The Treasury continues, by stealth, to use the South East as a cash cow.

What bang for our buck are we getting when the Government taxes us to the hilt yet refuses to upgrade vital transport infrastructure such as the A27 and when local hospitals continue to be under the threat of downgrading or closure?

Michelle Taylor