Unfair funding for Cambridgeshire to last for another three years
Fairer funding for Cambridgeshire’s struggling health and education sectors could be years away, it has been revealed.
An investigation by the Cambridge Independent has found that despite both services suffering from historical underfunding – causing cuts and growing debts – the county has again been overlooked for financial help.
The move has been branded completely unacceptable by South Cambridgeshire independent MP Heidi Allen, who has long campaigned for a fairer deal.
Health commissioning body, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG, needs to make savings of £33m against a £192m deficit. Last week, the CCG agreed to continue to freeze funding for IVF services in a move criticised by the government.
The Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Patients should have fair and equal access to NHS infertility treatment when they need it, no matter where they live.” However, the department has said the CCG will have to wait until 2023-24 to receive a fairer funding share across the next five-year allocation period.
The department admits that Cambridgeshire is 3.7 per cent below what is considered a fair funding position while the CCG says that it will receive less money to spend in the next financial year than in the current one.
Meanwhile, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough currently receives £1,125 per capita for its pupils, compared with £1,244 in Bedfordshire, £1,288 in West Suffolk and £1,497 in Norfolk.
And the problem is not unique to the health sector – schools in Cambridgeshire are also historically underfunded.
The education authority, Cambridgeshire County Council, MPs and recently pupils themselves have been lobbying the government for a fairer deal.
Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner said: “It [the CCG] feels very much like the situation with our schools, where the government tell us that we have more money, but teachers and headteachers tell us that we do not.
“I would like to underline the crucial point: we have less money to fund health services in 2019-20 than in 2018-19.”
The CCG is the third lowest funded in the country, with others receiving up to £350 per person more. All of Cambridgeshire’s neighbouring CCGs are better funded than it is.
Heidi Allen, who last month led a Westminster Hall debate on the issue, says the population data from which the NHS draws its calculations is “massively flawed”.
Ms Allen said on Tuesday (August 13): “It’s very similar in some ways to the fairer funding for schools. You’ve got this situation where some areas are overfunded and other areas under.
“They are supposed to be – over time – dragging everybody like a wedge to the same point, so those of us that are under get dragged up and those of us that are over get dragged down.”
The CCG says that it will have less money to spend in 2019-20 than in 2018-19. And the government admits that funding is 3.7 per cent off target.
“It is completely unacceptable,” said Ms Allen.
“I wouldn’t mind if we were operating in an environment, both education and healthcare funding-wise, where we were sloppy or where we were inefficient, because then we could take it on the chin and say, ‘you know what, we need to get better and cut our cloth’.
“But we have done that to the point where the CCG is looking at whether it can afford hearing aids to be made available for people.
“How deaf have you got to be before you’re allowed one? Or the IVF decision.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the CCG’s decision not to fund IVF is “not acceptable”.
The government says that the CCG allocation formula makes geographic distribution fair and objective, so that it more clearly reflects local healthcare needs and helps to reduce health inequalities.
It says by 2023-24, the CCG will receive more of a fair share across the five-year allocation period.
Next month, pupils will again go on strike to call for a fairer deal for the county’s education system.
Parents say the youngsters have taken action out of “desperation”, after budget cuts have left schools underfunded.
Around 1,000 people took part in a similar march to the Guildhall to protest against school funding cuts in April.
In June, Fulbourn Primary School announced it will be cutting teaching time by two hours from September and other schools are being kept afloat by parents’ donations.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister has made clear that we will increase minimum levels of per-pupil funding in primary and secondary schools and return education funding to previous levels. We will be announcing more details in due course.”
But the department was not able to confirm when this might be. It says Institute For Fiscal Studies figures show that in 2020, per-pupil funding for five to 16-year-olds, adjusted for inflation, will be 50 per cent higher than in 2000.
“There are schools having to have fairs and jumble sales to raise money for textbooks and for pencils,” said Ms Allen, adding: “We cannot cut our cloth any closer.
“How do they expect us to manage over the next few years to get to this position of Utopia?”
She continued: “It’s unacceptable and there are really easy solutions staring them in the face.
“Some schools across the country that have traditionally been better funded than we have, have millions of pounds sitting in their reserves.
“I’m sorry but that money needs pulling. This isn’t their day-to-day funding, it’s their reserves.
“Likewise the CCG. If you look even as close to home as Hertfordshire, they have money sitting in their reserves and they have offered to pile that into our area to offset our deficit.
“But NHS England and the government ultimately say no.”
The DfE says the purpose of the national funding formula is not to give every school the same level of per-pupil funding.
Pupils with additional needs get extra funding to help those pupils who are most likely to fall behind their peers.
That is why schools in some areas like London, which have proportionally more of these pupils, have higher per pupil funding than schools in other parts of the country which have a lower proportion of additional needs pupils.
In addition, schools in more expensive areas, like London, have higher funding per pupil than other parts of the country to reflect the higher costs they face.
But Ms Allen says honest conversations need to be had to tackle the problem before services are “stripped back to the absolute minimum”.
She said: “Unless there is an honest conversation about taxation or there’s brave local decisions, we’re going to see schools cutting hours and our CCG having very difficult decisions to make around what services they fund.
“They will strip back to the statutory absolute minimum, then not be able to cut any further.
“People in our part of the world that have been true blue Conservatives, I think they will start to seriously reconsider that.”
Cambridge is the fastest growing city in the UK and grew on average by seven per cent every year from 2010 to 2015.
The impact of services not keeping up with demand could be devastating, warns Ms Allen.
She said: “On a bigger economic level, areas like ours are incredibly special for the brains and the skills that we have and contributing positively to the tax coffers of the country as a whole.
“If our schools can’t pump those skills anymore, and if our healthcare starts to deliver a poorer service, the AstraZenecas of this world – that want to come and work here, and help pump that economy – are going to stop coming and the area will no longer be a positive contributor to the UK economy.
“We’re not asking for extra, we’re just asking for parity.”
Some 55 per cent of Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s funding comes from central government, with 45 per cent generated through council tax contributions and local council tax support grant.
The government says it has pledged to recruit 20,000 extra police officers, nearly replacing the number of officers that have been lost since the Conservatives returned to power.