Jenny Chapman MP

JENNY CHAPMAN

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Commons challenge on Darlington funding

Jenny has asked the Government why its funding of local councils was so unfair.

She quizzed Communities Secretary Greg Clark yesterday after news broke that rural councils are in for extra funds while Darlington has been hard-hit.

After Conservative councillors in control of rural districts complained about cuts to their Government grants, Mr Clark announced a package of aid for them which adds up to £93million. Yet Labour-controlled Darlington Council will lose out, resulting in £12.5m of cuts.

In the Commons yesterday, Jenny asked him to justify the disparity in treatment: "In response to questions asked earlier by Conservative Members about funding allocations for rural areas, Ministers hinted that they think there is some unfairness in the system," she said. 

"May I encourage Ministers to look at the issue again, because I agree that there is a great deal of unfairness? The funding in my borough in Darlington is being decimated and the cuts are devastating for the local economy, whereas the spending power of a similarly sized town, Wokingham, will be increased over coming years. That is fundamentally unfair. Will Ministers look at the issue again?"

Experts have been using the comparison between Darlington and Wokingham to illustrate the funding system's unfairness. Ten years ago the two councils' total funding was similar. Darlington received £102 million, while Wokingham got £113 million.

But well-heeled Wokingham is much better-off than Darlington so its council tax receipts were far higher and therefore government funding was less.

In 2010/11, Darlington raised £32 million in council tax while the Berkshire authority received £73 million. By 2019/20, both councils will have lost around half their government funding, but Wokingham's TOTAL funding will have INCREASED to £119 million because it will collect much more in council tax. Darlington will receive £86 million, which is around £16 million LESS than ten years earlier.

All Mr Clark would say in response to Jenny's question was: "I will respond on the provisional financial settlement shortly. It is important for every type of authority that its needs and the costs of providing services are properly met, and that is the Government’s objective."

Jenny has also tabled an Early Day Motion to try to get a debate on Darlington's financial plight.

The Northern Echo's petition asking the Government to think again has topped 7,000 signatures. When it reaches 10,000, it will be considered for a Commons debate. You can sign it here .

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