From the moment I was first elected as your MP, I have been determined to achieve one thing above all else: a fairer share of public funding for Herefordshire. Every week my in-tray is filled with issues affected by the under-funding of public services.
Over the last five years we have had some good wins: £15 million in new investment for fast broadband, an additional £3.5 million to fix potholes and an extra £2.6 million per year in schools funding from this year.
Some real progress has been made amid a very difficult economic climate, but the money we receive from central government remains both insufficient and unfairly allocated. This and other rural areas have been under-funded for decades, and the long-term impact is now really being felt.
Herefordshire Council has never had much in the way of reserves, and it has been forced to make some extraordinarily difficult decisions in order to balance their budget. Tens of millions have already been cut, and an estimated £42m needs to be saved every year between now and 2020.
This has put local services under huge strain. I am ramping up my efforts to secure better schools funding by contacting local heads to seek their support for a national petition to ministers.
But now you have the opportunity to have your say. The council want to know your thoughts on their priorities and proposals to save money and increase income. The consequences of these decisions will directly or indirectly touch all local people, so it is essential that everybody’s voice is heard.
You can take part in the budget consultation at the following link until 9th October:
If you would prefer to fill in the form by hand, please contact the council directly.
One crucial question is whether council tax should be raised. Tax hikes are never popular. But the national economy is now growing, and local incomes are generally higher than in 2010. And the future of rural public transport, and of essential facilities such as local libraries, is under serious threat. Raising council tax may be the only short term way to boost income and protect the key services on which so many Herefordians rely.
Whatever the final decision may be, we need to look closely at this issue now, as part of an essential conversation about the economic future of our county.