South East can support UK recovery – if enabled

Friday, 17 December, 2021

Responding to the local government settlement, South East Councils has said that retaining more regional revenues is key if the region is to tackle climate action, address skills gaps and deliver better local services for residents.   

Cllr Nicolas Heslop, Chair of South East Councils said: 

“It is widely acknowledged that council finances across the country have been hit hard as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, which in turn places a significant strain on local authority finances and undermines their ability to deliver essential services to residents. 

Our member councils have made it clear that continuing the current annual funding settlement is unacceptable, as this brings with it an added element of uncertainty and undermines councils ability to plan for the longer term.  

The South East acts as the gateway to the world, positioned on the doorstep of the European Union, with significant clusters of commerce and industry, the South East is second only to the capital in terms of total value of goods exported.  

However, the region is home to some of the most deprived areas of the country and has its set of unique challenges, notably surrounding migration (given the region’s relative proximity to continental Europe).  

Therefore, the Government must ensure that sufficient financial support is provided to councils across the region, to ensure they are equipped to meet these ongoing challenges, but also the challenges of tomorrow, especially given the changes in movements of people, brought about the Covid19 pandemic. 

At a minimum – a three-year funding settlement for local authorities – is needed, so that councils are better able to plan for the future and continue to deliver essential services to residents.  

The Treasury would also do well to note that the South East is among one of three regions that are a net contributor to the national exchequer. Undermining the South East would adversely impact the UK economy, and with it, the recovery from the pandemic. 

Devolution of finance would allow the region to invest in its future, rather than having to lobby Whitehall to get our own taxpayers’ money back. 

Our regular South East 1,000 poll reveals an appetite for setting various levies and taxes at a local, regional, or national level.  

A number of member councils have advocated for the removal of council tax referendum limits, which would provide greater freedom and flexibility, in addition to removing restrictions over fees and charges that are set by statute.  

There should be no further tightening of capital spending and/or borrowing controls, which many councils will need going forward.”

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