Tory delegates mull alternative council financing options

2 Oct 18

Greater fiscal devolution, commercialisation and students paying council tax were all mooted solutions to squeezed local government funding, at a Conservative Party conference fringe session yesterday. 

In a packed room, local government experts talked about ways cash-strapped councils could continue to fund services with, as the fringe guide suggested, “a trajectory of anticipated spending review cash-throttling”. 

David Simmonds, deputy leader of Hillingdon, suggested “greater fiscal devolution was the answer”, at the event organised by the think-tank Localis. 

He said he wanted to see a change to the current system of local authorities going with a “begging bowl to the Treasury”. 

Paul Carter, leader of Kent County Council and chair of the County Councils Network, said local government finance needed “re-calibrating” so there was a level playing field between councils. 

Many counties are currently struggling financially because of the high demand on social services. 

“We need to have more levers in bringing about change in health and social care,” he told the audience at the fringe. 

Natalie Abraham, operations director at CIPFA's consultancy service, pointed out that “being commercial isn't just all about selling”. 

She warned councils trying out new ways of making money needed to “really understand that market”.

“Every decision taken has to be evidence driven,” she advised. 

Professor Francis Davis, a senior advisor with CIPFA's C.Co, suggested that students could pay council tax as a means of bringing in more revenue. “

“It won't be popular,” he said. “But some of these kids have got spare cash". 

An audience member, in the question and answer session at the end, suggested that if central government stopped “micromanaging” local government councils could “ensure efficiencies without costing the Treasury a penny”. 

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