More cash for East's rural councils after government U-turn

Demo at Norfolk County Council
Image caption Disability campaigners protest against Norfolk council cuts as the government gives the authority an extra £7.7m

It's not often that the government appears to listen, think again and then dig a little deeper into its pockets - but the announcement over council funding appears to be example of just that.

When this year's local government spending settlement was first announced back in December there was an outcry.

Many of our Conservative authorities joined the voices who complained that the funding formula favoured urban areas. They said it hadn't really taken into account the extra pressures on rural areas, not least because many of them have a higher than average number of elderly people to care for.

Now the government says it's listening. It's tweaked the formula and found some transitional funding which means most of our councils will get a little more money.

Councils are transitioning to standing on their own two feet, losing Whitehall grants and retaining their own business rate growth by 2020, which is the biggest change in council funding for decades.

While beginning their journey along that road, councils are still facing challenging times.

Essex County Council complained bitterly at the time of the original settlement just before Christmas; Cambridgeshire called it "deeply disappointing"; Hertfordshire spoke of having to make unpalatable decisions. They have all now gained some more funding.

Winners and losers

Hertfordshire has the largest award in the region at £15.5m over the next two years, while Essex gets £14m. Norfolk receives an extra £7.7m, Suffolk just under £6.5m, Cambridgeshire £6.4m, Central Bedfordshire £4.4m and Northamptonshire £3.4m.

The small district and borough councils get a little bit extra as well.

The exceptions are Peterborough, Luton and Milton Keynes, which are classed as urban and the government thinks that their settlement is fair.

In reality, this money is a drop in the ocean and is only for the next two years, when councils are facing a massive long-term squeeze.

Norfolk council has to make savings of £100m over the next three years, so an extra £7.7m won't help a great deal.

Northamptonshire County Council is looking at making savings of £84m and Kettering MP, Philip Hollobone, thinks it might struggle to balance the books.

Labour says it welcomes the money but there is a crisis in local government funding.

In the longer term, councils will have to find different income streams as well as continuing to manage savings but for the moment some recognition for rural areas is better than nothing.