EFFORTS to get local councils to outline how they will become more productive have been criticised by Mid Devon’s finance cabinet member. 

Cllr James Buczkowski (Liberal Democrat, Cullompton St Andrews) questioned moves by the government to get local authorities to explain how they will become more efficient, given the financial strain councils find themselves in. 

“Central government is giving local government less and less, and now they want us to explain how we are slicing the salami,” he said. 

“There are councils of all colours in the same situation. Being given less and asked to do more and more, and blamed when it doesn’t happen.” 

The comments came after councils received letters from Simon Hoare, the minister for local government, in April. 

Mid Devon’s cabinet discussed the issue of productivity plans at its meeting this week, Tuesday, June 4, with Cllr Buczkowski calling the formal written response by the authority’s deputy chief executive, Andrew Jarrett, “spot on.” 

This said central government needed to reflect on how fair local government funding is, especially for sparsely populated rural authorities like Mid Devon. 

It also asked for some medium-term financial certainty, and whether certain services should not be funded by government. 

“Why should the council tax payer subsidise planning applications?” the letter said. 

“Is there a recognition that some services should be subsidised by the council tax payer, like leisure, parks, play areas, etc, ones that have preventative health benefits? 

“How prescriptive does government intend to be in this space? For all the talk of devolution, we are still seeing national commentary on types of bin collection, for example.” 

Cllr Simon Clist (Liberal Democrat, Upper Culm) asked if the government’s move marked the start of annual assessments, or whether it was a one-off. 

Stephen Walford, Mid Devon’s chief executive, said while there isn’t a definitive answer, it appeared to be more information-gathering rather than the start of an ongoing process. 

This year’s financial settlement is the sixth one-year settlement for councils in a row, which the Local Government Association said “continues to hamper financial planning and their financial sustainability.” 

By Bradley Gerrard