Council funding changes threaten services

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TOWN Hall chiefs in St Helens fear changes in council funding will see the borough adversely affected by worsening economic conditions.

The warning comes as cabinet members today discuss further cuts to cope with a £50m cut to the council’s annual grant settlement over the next two years.

Around 1,010 council jobs have been lost and countless council services shelved since the government’s austerity measures kicked in two years ago.

Now council leader Marie Rimmer is warning changes to the way business rates are collected mean St Helens could be left out of pocket again.

The government originally consulted councils on retaining 100 per cent of their net business rates – but has now ruled that the figure will be just 49 per cent, with one per cent passed to the Fire Authority and 50 per cent passed to the government.

It means the council will be exposed to any decrease in the number of businesses within the borough – leading to a direct impact on council finances and its ability to fund services to those who need them.

Councils will also have to shoulder more of the burden with the help given to vulnerable council tax payers. Council tax benefit will disappear and be replaced by discounts – administered by local councils.

Coun Rimmer said: “Despite the limited safeguards put in place by the government, we’re now at the mercy of market forces and will find it increasingly difficult to control our own destiny.”