For my column this month, I wanted to take a look at how well Ipswich compares to other similar towns in terms of Government funding. I also wanted to compare our rates of council tax and how it is spent.
It is vital that our town receives a fair funding deal over the course of this pandemic and as such I have been receiving data from the House of Commons Library to keep an eye on the situation.
In general terms over the course of the last ten years I am happy to report that Ipswich Borough Council has been receiving funding from the Government in line with the amount that is spent on other councils of a similar size and type across the country. To confirm this, I looked at the data from five local authorities which are most similar to Ipswich. These are Gloucester, Lincoln, Chesterfield, Nuneaton and Bedworth, and Scarborough.
All of these are lower tier Borough Councils within rural counties. They are all also Large Town local authorities with similar levels of deprivation to Ipswich. Encouraging data on the amount of additional funding provided by the Government over the course of this year tells a similar story. Millions of pounds of extra funding has been provided to Ipswich Borough Council by the Government to ensure that our local businesses and public services are able to cope during this pandemic.
I think the numbers are interesting. Over the course of this pandemic Ipswich Borough Council has been given, at the very least, £33,569,871 in additional funding from the Government. This figure is drawn from the four tranches of the Emergency funding allocation; the Next Steps Accommodation Programme; the Reopening High Streets grant fund; Small business Grant Fund; and the Council Tax Hardship Fund. The figure also includes the £1,244,250 which was given to Ipswich Borough Council as part of the Local Authority Discretionary grant fund which they have been using to provide further support in cases where there is an extra need.
The largest portion of this support comes from the Small Business Grant Fund which has been used to keep our retail and hospitality businesses afloat with over £26 million. This is Government money that is specifically designed to support our hospitality sector and we are glad that this has allowed Ipswich Borough Council to set up a scheme to support our brilliant pubs and restaurants. I have said before on a number of occasions, that having spoken to the hospitality industry in Ipswich, I would like to see this funding increase and I am hoping for the extension of business rates holidays and tax holidays well into the future.
It is important to remember as well that this figure does not reflect the total amount of additional funding that has gone to Ipswich over this pandemic. Government money also finds its way into our town via Suffolk County Council to support local improvements, but here we have a good depiction of the direct funding which comes straight from the Government to people and businesses in Ipswich. The £2 million support from the Covid Winter Grant Scheme has targeted those most in need and continues to make a real difference across Suffolk.
At the end of February, the Labour Party brought an Opposition Day motion in Parliament on the issue of council tax. What they termed ‘The Prime Minister’s Council Tax hike’ was a reference to the decision announced as part of the offer to give councils the ability to increase council tax by 2% (with an additional 3% social care precept) if they chose to. They don’t have to and have the flexibility to defer this increase for a year.
The Labour Party’s position in the debate was yet another contradiction, given that their leadership in local government, including the Mayor of London, are calling for higher rises, and “Captain Hindsight” Keir Starmer has previously called for the introduction of new local taxes. The ten local authorities with the worst council tax collection rates according the data we have from 2019-20 are all Labour-run. These were Blackpool, Middlesbrough, Salford, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Preston, Nottingham, Tameside and Kingston upon Hull.
Not only this, but Labour councils across the country have spent irresponsibly with countless and needless steps into the world of commercial property investing. The worst culprits for this are Nottingham and Croydon which has officially declared itself bankrupt. Yet in London, Sadiq Khan has still found the money to increase his PR budget to £13 million whilst also raising his share of Council Tax by 10%.
It is no surprise then that many have questioned why Ipswich Borough Council are spending £22.5 million on office blocks in Peterborough. This being spent during the pandemic, when working from home has opened up a whole new debate on ways of working, would appear to make this a questionable investment. It might be different if this money was actually invested within Ipswich, supporting a worthwhile project that could be a significant benefit to the town but this obviously isn’t. Even if things go well, it is anticipated that it will take 10 years of office rents for Ipswich to make its money back. I continue to hope that our labour run Borough Council focusses its attention less on risky business ventures outside of our town and more on spending money on local initiatives.
I continue to lobby the Government at every available opportunity to make sure that Ipswich is not left behind with Government funding and their levelling up agenda. On the whole I am happy to see a Conservative Government back local businesses with emergency funds during the pandemic, supporting those that need it most. I want to see this continue and to go deeper so that nobody is left behind and every Ipswich business has the opportunity to emerge from this pandemic. It is clear that across the country when it comes to keeping Council Tax low, not wasting taxpayers money or exposing them to risky investments, it is Conservative councils that can be trusted.