Delegates reiterated, again, the need for specific financial assistance for the Isle of Wight due to the ‘Island Factor’, to both assist with the current difficulties in balancing budgets while maintaining services and for funding major regeneration projects that will boost the Island’s economy, economic position and revenue base, as identified in the medium term financial strategy that was discussed at a meeting of the Full Council last night (Wednesday).
Delegates were able to update the Minister on this proposed new medium term financial strategy and explained that this plan creates a ‘window of opportunity’ to create momentum in delivering an enhanced economic position for the Island and for the council to grow its tax base. However, while this new direction will enable the council to focus upon regeneration as a source of additional income, the pressures of the government’s austerity agenda remain over the longer term,
There will, therefore, remain a need to make further cuts in services until the additional income streams can be secured, albeit with reduced front-loaded savings required (£12.5m in 2017/18 reduced to £7.5m). Unless the government is able to take account of the ‘Island Factor’ in assessing the levels of funding the council needs, the potential for further future cuts remains uncertain.
The need for a positive outcome from the funding review is still a necessity to secure the future financial plans of the Island. It was also suggested to the Minister that the criteria for the award of the Rural Sparsity Grant could be adjusted to take into account the Island’s status, in advance of the completion of the review.
The council has responded to the government’s fair funding review in September 2016 to state the case for the Island’s uniqueness, citing detailed analysis of the ‘Island Factor’; results of this review will not be known for another 2 years. The fair funding review, therefore, does not assist the council’s financial position in the short term and is not guaranteed in the long term either.
The Minister made clear that the figure of £30 million a year over 30 years remains definitely ‘on the table’, as part of a potential Solent Deal.
He also made it clear that it is the Isle of Wight Council’s decision whether to pursue this money, and that the offer will not remain ‘on the table’ indefinitely. It was further discussed that any delay in pursuing this available funding would also delay the possibility of strategic regeneration projects commencing, and thus undermine the council’s desire to boost the Islands economy through regeneration and growth, and improve its financial prospects now and into the future.