Compared with ‘comparative’ authorities on the mainland, the impact of funding reductions and strict spending controls are felt to a greater extent by the Island’s community. Opportunity to present evidence to the government, in order to inform the Fair Funding Review of local authority services, closed on 26th September.
The Fair Funding Review was initiated by the former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark MP, and highlighted by him as an important opportunity for the Isle of Wight to make its case for a fairer proportion of government funding.
Councillor Jonathan Bacon, Leader of the Isle of Wight Council, has said:
“The current funding formula has some regard to the amount of coastline an area might have, but does not take into consideration the Isle of Wight’s unique geography as an island. As Islanders, we all know the benefits of living here, but we also understand the restrictions that island living can place on our personal finances. This is no different for the council, and we are grateful for this opportunity to make our case to government in the hope that we may secure the recognition and some form of financial recompense for these challenges we all face on a daily basis. This makes the fair funding review just that; a review of how public funding formulas can be applied more fairly so that public services can be delivered in a fair and equitable manner all over the country.”
In a letter to the Department for Communities and Local Government, the council’s Chief Executive, John Metcalfe, made the Island’s case. He states:
“The challenges posed by being an island are not currently part of the local government funding formula. This … effectively means that residents of the Isle of Wight are at a relative disadvantage in being able to access convenient and quality public services, when compared to those in similar mainland authorities.”
Part of the work to identify what the ‘Island Factor’ is, and thus shape the argument to government, has been a research and analysis project by experts at the University of Portsmouth. 3 specific themes have been identified and evidenced within the research report, which add additional costs to the provision of local authority services and, therefore, impact the council’s ability to deliver effective and efficient services, through being an Island: self-sufficiency, the Island premium and dislocation.
The council is taking innovative and ambitious steps forward to be able to manage its future finances in a more strategic manner, focussing on the pillars of regeneration, growth and productivity; while focusing less on cuts. However, a continued dialogue with government is also important to the future and ongoing sustainability of the council and the availability of local authority services across the Island.
Council Bacon, added:
“We know that the Fair Funding review will not yield fruit until at least 2019/20 in terms of any changes to our funding settlement from government. It is, however, important that we continue to take every opportunity to press government to recognise our challenges as an Island in monetary terms, not just in informal assurances, so that we can sustain and deliver the best services that we can to our Island community, into the future. Our focus on regeneration gives us further inspiration for balancing our budgets in future years, but it’s about getting the balance right across all of our opportunities, including extra funding, increased income through regeneration and cash injections from other funding streams and developments, such as the Solent Deal.”