Headlines: March 13th, 2008

The Budget will leave many council leaders scratching their heads over how to deliver better services with less money, according to the Local Government Association. Its chairman, Sir Simon Milton, welcomed the announcements of more money to deal with child poverty and the focus on green issues, but he said Alistair Darling had given little to local authorities.

Sir Simon said, “At first look, the Budget gives little relief to town halls struggling to balance the books. Many council leaders will be scratching their heads as they try to work out how they will deliver ever better services for local people with less money than in recent years and with greater demands on services.”

Responding specifically to the Chancellor’s announcement on sites for 70,000 new homes, Sir Simon said local authorities needed assurances that enough money would be made available for the roads, schools and hospitals that would be needed to ensure the new developments were places where people wanted to live rather than desolate dormitories.

The Association’s vice-chair, Sir Jeremy Beecham, said the measures to reform Council Tax benefit would be an important step towards targets on child poverty but more needed to be done, given that 1.8 billion pounds of the benefit goes unclaimed each year. “This is a positive move, but there are further proposals that councils could work with the government on to improve take-up,” Sir Jeremy added.

In the wake of Mr. Darling’s moves to encourage energy companies to reduce tariffs, the LGA also repeated its call for every home in the country to be insulated as a way of dealing with fuel poverty. Councillor Paul Bettison, Chairman of the LGA’s Environment Board, said power companies were making eye-watering profits at the expense of families.

Finally the LGA supported the announcement of new funding for the development of road pricing technology but said pricing could not be considered in isolation. Its Transport spokesman, Councillor David Sparks said ministers had to loosen their grip and devolve transport funding and powers to local authorities.