We’ve all been waiting to hear the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement to see how the Government intends to address the UK’s financial challenges through a mix of spending cuts and tax rises. And now we’ve heard it.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt called it a statement for stability and growth. But with local councils across the country facing possibly the most financially difficult times in recent memory, how did the Chancellor’s statement land?
As ever, reactions to huge political statements like this are often initially guarded. The devil is in the detail they say, and yesterday’s statement – albeit the best part of hour to deliver – were just the headlines.
Since then, Councils will have been pouring over the detail to understand the full impact of yesterday’s programme of announcements, and where that leaves them.
In reaction, our own Leader, Cllr John Hart, said:
“I have already warned that, in common with most top-tier councils across the country, Devon is facing a black hole in its finances of £75 million caused by soaring inflation, surging demand for our vital services for vulnerable children and adults and rapidly rising costs.
“I had hoped the Chancellor would spare local government the cuts he is having to make to get the nation’s finances back on an even keel.
“However, I welcome his comments concerning his decision to postpone the introduction of the social care reforms and to allocate those savings to local authorities.
“And I welcome any decision that will allow local authorities flexibility with regards to potential council tax rises. I recognise though that people across Devon are facing real issues with the cost of living and I will not want to increase their burden any more than necessary.
“This will however be an option to consider in our budget preparation when we will be faced with increasing council tax by more than we would like or potentially making deep cuts in services that are valued by people across the county. Unfortunately, we may well have to do both next year.
“It will be a very difficult balancing act.”
Of course, Devon is not alone in facing severe financial difficulties, with costs for caring for vulnerable adults and children soaring.
Four in five councils across the country with responsibility for these important services are all reporting the same thing.
Supporting children and families with special educational needs is a particular issue for many councils. In Devon, we’re working hard to bring costs under control, whilst continuing to support people well.
“Devon has always been known for its careful and prudent financial management, but the strain on us all is becoming intolerable,” says Cllr Hart.
“We will have to see exactly what the net effect is of all the changes in the chancellors Autumn Statement, but it is highly likely that we will still have some very difficult decisions to make.”