Sunderland council chiefs slams 'terribly unfair' deal after Government pledges £7.5million for city
City leaders have branded the latest stage of a government aid package ‘terribly unfair’ on Sunderland.
Sunderland is in line for more than £7.5million in the second round of a funding scheme to help councils deal with the fallout from coronavirus.
And although bosses insisted the money will still be ‘welcomed’ when it arrives, they have also slammed changes which means Wearside will get almost £3million less that it received in the first allocation of cash, while other areas see their share increase.
Graeme Miller, the leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “When the first tranche was allocated to Sunderland and all councils, need and deprivation were part of the formula used to decide on how money was distributed.
“This second tranche has had those need and deprivation elements removed, leaving the funding decision based purely on head count, a policy that clearly benefits councils in the south, at the expense of northern councils.
“Sunderland will lose £3million as our share drops from £10.6million to £7.6million – that is terribly unfair on the people of Sunderland.”
Early in the COVID-19 outbreak, the government announced a £1.6 billion fund to help councils deal with the effects of the virus, including falling income, rising costs and mounting pressure on staff and services caused by absences and increased need, among other factors.
This initially saw Sunderland receive £10.5 million, with the wider North East allocated almost £93million.
However, a second stage of the scheme, which will double the total cash available to £3.2billion, will see Sunderland handed about £7.6million, with the region’s combined share falling to £75million.
Council bosses had expected the grants to local authorities to remain largely similar across both funding rounds.
All the North East’s 12 councils have also seen their allocations fall, although the region’s fire and rescue authorities are in line for more money.
In April 2020, Coun Miller warned the city council was facing a ‘black hole’ in its finances due to the virus and called on ministers to keep their word on promises to guarantee local authority funding.
Responding, Robert Oliver, leader of Sunderland’s Conservative opposition group, claimed the council could plug spending gaps with it’s savings, currently worth about £11million.
He said: “Sunderland’s general reserves have increased from £5million in 2010 even though the council is smaller and it currently holds a million more than Newcastle.
“Given the circumstances it would be reasonable for the council to use some of the general reserves now to support spending during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Residents may wonder why political leaders are always asking the government for more money but are unwilling to take even a penny out of their own emergency cash.”
But this was dismissed by Coun Miller.
“This council should not have to use a single penny of its carefully husbanded reserves to deal with a national health crisis that is not caused by this local authority or its people,” he said.
“The government clearly promised to cover all local authority costs in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis with our health, social care and community partners and I expect them to live up to and honour that pledge.”