PM Blair has to save us from cuts

This is the full text of the open letter to The Rt Hon Tony Blair MP, which appeared in part on last week's Bucks Free Press front page

DEAR Prime Minister

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The people of Buckinghamshire face the stark choice of either paying much higher council taxes or substantial cuts in public services as a result of the Government's projected funding settlement for next year.

The starting point is that Buckinghamshire is likely to receive a Government increase in its Standard Spending Assessment of about £20 million next year and the fact that this would require an increase in council tax of between 5.5 per cent and six per cent to bring in that additional £20 million.

The cost of delivering the same services next year that we are currently providing has been rigorously tested during September and has been accurately costed as needing a minimum of £25 million more next year and so we are confronted with a gap of £5 million between what the Government is intending to allow us and what we actually need.

We therefore have the unenviable task of having to ask for a Council Tax increase of 11 per cent to bring in the £25 million we need or alternatively cutting services by £5 million in order to stick to a six per cent rise in council tax.

Is this what the Government intended?

Our basic problem is the massive underfunding by the Government of social services throughout the country.

In Buckinghamshire, we are already having to top up what the Government allows for social services by over £12 million a year, found locally by extra council tax and cuts to other much needed services.

Next year, inescapable commitments for social services would drive that figure an extra £3 million higher to over £15 million a year more than the Government provides for.

Maintaining the local top-up at the current level will inevitably lead to reductions in some areas of social services in order to fund the unavoidable commitments.

We are at present having to manage a forecast overspend of £1.5 million on social services in this current year, despite already spending over 20 per cent more than we have been provided with by Government.

The only sustainable answer is for the Government to acknowledge that it has to make a major step change in the way it funds social services (bearing in mind that last year Local Government had to actually spend £950 million more than the Government allowed for social services) or councils will inevitably be driven to substantial reductions in the services that they can continue to deliver in order to compensate for this central underfunding.

We have finally reached the point where we are now unable to cope with both the increase in growth of demand from our service users and the stream of unfunded new initiatives and regulation changes that issue from Government. There is no more slack in the system, we are at breaking point.

Prime Minister, I am making an open appeal to you to step in personally to increase funding in order to avoid significant cuts in our public services.

David Shakespeare Leader Buckinghamshire County Council