Torridge councillors and MP seek fairer funding

Sunday 8th May 2022 11:00 am
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Torridge District Council leaders joined forces with Torridge and West Devon MP Sir Geoffrey Cox last week to travel to London to petition the Government for fairer funding for Torridge district.

Sir Geoffrey and council chief executive Steve Hearse and chief financial officer David Heyes met with government minister Kemi Badenoch in London to press the case for Torridge receiving a higher annual grant from the Government.

Torridge has been allocated the small increase of 1.1 per cent for the current financial year, which the Devon deputation pointed out was well below the 4.3 per cent average across shire districts nationwide. This is amid concerns that rising costs and slow post-covid recovery could see the council drifting into deficit and needing to draw on reserves over the next two years.

Torridge also remains one of the most deprived areas in the UK, ranking a low 67 out of 267 authorities. With the current level of inflation running at around 6.2%, the trio argued that the 1.1% settlement actually represents a significant decrease in spending power in real terms.

Kemi Badenoch is the Minister of State for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) with responsibility for local government finance.

Not unsympathetic to Torridge district’s concerns, she asked for a report examining how the levels of income from council tax in Torridge have been reduced as a result of property owners turning their properties into holiday homes and migrating to paying business rates.

She has also pledged that officials will also look into the fact that no inflation was applied to the rural services grant element of the settlement, which for Torridge is the greatest component. The outcome from the investigation is expected in the coming weeks and will be communicated in a written response back to Sir Geoffrey and the council.

Torridge’s delegation also took the opportunity to raise wider concerns affecting the area around second home ownership, holiday lets avoiding business rates, the impacts on housing regarding increasing values, lower affordability and availability, particularly for those in need of affordable rentals, and the cumulative impact of all of this on homelessness in the region.

Sir Geoffrey said: ‘I was extremely happy to arrange this meeting and to support Torridge in their quest more fully to understand the basis of this year’s settlement. I was grateful to my colleague, the minister, for giving us the time to discuss this, and other important and related issues such as the acute housing problems we face.

‘Given the way the government finance formula works, it appears that it is partly because so much of our housing stock is being withdrawn from council tax liability by being converted into holiday let businesses that TDC has received this lower-than-expected settlement.

‘Given our status as a tier one area for the Government’s “levelling up” policy, quite rightly a settlement for our district council, which on the face of it, disproportionately affects our area compared to others should be inquired into closely. That is what we have collectively managed to achieve through this meeting, and I hope it will lead to further support for Torridge residents.’

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