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County short-changed by pounds 5m on care services.

Byline: By Adrian Pearson

SOCIAL services in Northumberland are losing nearly pounds 5m as the Government diverts money to London councils.

This year Northumberland County Council was awarded pounds 4.8m less than it asked for to run the essential services.

However, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has handed wealthy London boroughs such as Kensington and Chelsea pounds 16.8m more than needed.

The Government has been accused of dragging its feet over plans to change from an outdated funding formula to a more accurate system.

Local government think tank SIGOMA said the figures show some of the country's poorest boroughs are subsiding the richest. They highlighted the case of Richmond upon Thames Council which received 130% more than its target grant, compared to Northumberland which received 5.5% less.

The DCLG agreed two years ago to change the way grants handed out from a central fund are calculated, but has not yet acted on its own recommendations.

Stephen Houghton, chair of the SIGOMA group, which is open to unitary authorities outside London, called for a change in the "social services anomaly".

He said: "We understand that change needs to be gradual but it also needs to be fair. Despite the acknowledgement by Government that our member authorities need higher social services funding, we have so far not seen any real increase since the new formula was agreed two years ago. We are losing out to London Boroughs such as Kensington and Chelsea, Richmond upon Thames and Wandsworth, and the fact that authorities such as Northumberland are effectively subsidising these very affluent parts of the country cannot be morally right."

The Government had planned to change the grant system in 2005 but delayed the introduction of a new formula as local elections approached.

Last night Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell said: "We've been short-changed for years, regardless of which Government is in. We've been left out of the loop for a long time, something needs to be done."

A Northumberland County Council spokesman said: "The council has been pressing for some considerable time for a fair deal for Northumberland."

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said they intended to gradually change the grant system. "We listened to councils' concerns about the scale of change as a result of the new formula, which is why the new social services grant was phased in by a formula-damping scheme."

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 11, 2007
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