The Institute of British Geographer's Conference: Spending estimates

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The Independent Online
SERIOUS FLAWS in the methods used by the Government to set its Standard Spending Assessment figures for local authorities are leading to dramatic imbalances in what councils are allowed to spend, the conference was told.

Dr Martyn Senior, of Salford University, told the conference that some of the formulae applied by the Government were highly inaccurate. Better-off authorities, mainly shire counties and districts, were allowed to get richer, while northern industrial towns and London boroughs were losing out.

Standard Spending Assessment (SSA) is key in determining the level of government cash for councils and in setting the amount that they are allowed to raise through the poll tax or council tax.

The biggest winner, according to Dr Senior, is Huntingdonshire, the Prime Minister's constituency, where the SSA appears to be 180 per cent above the figure arrived at by Dr Senior. The district council's permitted spending in 1992-93 was pounds 13m - pounds 8m more than the pounds 5m arrived at by Dr Senior.

Other 'winners' include Oxford, at 159 per cent of Dr Senior's assessment, South Cambridgeshire (121 per cent) South Herefordshire (95 per cent) and East Cambridgeshire (86 per cent) followed by Slough, East Northamptonshire, Newbury, Aylesbury Vale, Westminster, North and West Dorset, Fenland, Kings Lynn and West Norfolk.

The biggest loser was Harlow, where the SSA appears to be underestimated by 56 per cent, 'robbing' the district of pounds 6m of the pounds 14m to which Dr Senior believes it is entitled.

The biggest metropolitan losers were Wakefield (70 per cent underestimated), Rotherham (52), Doncaster (51) Barnsley (50), Kirklees (50), South Tyneside (49), and Rochdale (48).

A large factor in creating such errors was the use of local authorities' spending in 1987-88 (or 1985- 86 for education) as a yardstick. Thus, if an authority had for some reason spent at a low level in the 'base' year, that underspend would be perpetuated thereafter.