9 February 2009
EVEN BEFORE the recession struck, people in Southwark were feeling the pinch, as the council lambasted central government for a £35 million shortfall over three years.
Threats to essential services, meals on wheels, wardens, museums and festivals have all been mooted and some enacted. The leader of the council, Nick Stanton, has hit out at apparent outdated population figures that have allowed the government to allocate fewer funds, whilst refusing to answer Cllr Stanton's letters about the matter.
Yet, at a local level, this is exactly what the Labour opposition appears to be coming up against with the Liberal Democrat/Conservative administration. Last year, this paper reported on claims by Labour leader, Cllr Peter John, that a £6.8m government grant had vanished from the council's budget. Quite fairly, he pointed out that, as the council was making such a fuss about funding shortfalls, it should clarify exactly what had happened to this large windfall. After all, it undermines your complaints about fair funding somewhat if you can’t prove that all funding you’ve received has been fairly allocated.
Matters came to a head last week at the full council assembly at town hall, with serious accusations being traded across the chamber. Cllr John claims that the money - which had also been allocated for the two previous years - was a revenue receipt, meaning that it was funding that should not have been factored in to the council's annual budget, as it was not guaranteed annual income. However, it appears that the council banked on receiving the funds, and built them into its regeneration budget. And when it then faced a serious shortfall, the £7m nest egg had already been spent, meaning places like the Livesey Museum for Children had to close.
Last week, Cllr Stanton apologised to Cllr John for 'inadvertently' suggesting the money was a capital receipt, but he then refused to answer further questions. At the time of going to press, neither Cllr John nor this paper had received answers as to what the money was actually spent on, and whether it could be retrieved.
So come on Cllr Stanton - if you want the Government to be upfront about funding, why won't you answer the opposition's equally valid funding questions?
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