By Martin Walker
Durham County Council’s revised savings target could top the £200m-mark when yet further Government cuts come into force.
Our local authority says additional predicted cut-backs could mean its savings over a six-year period, between 2011 and 2017, will increase from an original 28% to 36% – a staggering £200m.
It will heap even further pressure on the authority after it was originally told to save £180m, which was later upped to £190m.
Some positive news has come out of Durham Council’s 2013-14 budget, however, which was officially approved today (Wednesday).
A freeze in council tax for the fourth year running; protection for 65,000 households by retaining the same level of council tax benefit payments for a year; increased investment in projects to kick start the economy and job creation; and higher spend on areas of adult social care are some of the positives.
But the budget document also outlined grim saving targets handed down by the Government.
Members heard that cuts in Government funding mean that initial forecasts of a total reduction of some 28% to the budget are now more likely to equate to 36% between the years highlighted above.
In addition, should predicted further central Government funding cuts go ahead, that figure could be more like 40% by 2017/18, representing an overall revised savings target of some £200m across the six-year period.
To meet these unprecedented targets, the council will stick to the plan supported by the public of protecting wherever possible front line services while continuing to reduce management and support service budgets to balance the books.
Leader of the council, Cllr Simon Henig, said: “I am grateful to the public for their feedback during our recent consultation which shows a high level of understanding of how we have managed spending reductions so far.
“However, there is no doubt there are many more extremely difficult decisions which we will have to make.
“We will make these while continuing our discussions with residents and businesses in the county and while protecting those who are most vulnerable as best we can.
“This includes our proposal to freeze council tax for the fourth year running, our decision to protect council tax benefit payments for a year and our increased budgets for areas of adult social care as well as capital projects to boost the economy and job creation.
“Our commitment to protect and improve our offer to residents wherever we can is also evident through the announcement of two new household waste recycling centres at Crook and near Barnard Castle plus a new customer access point for Stanley as well as our investment in Newton Aycliffe.”
The decision to protect council tax benefits to the most vulnerable households in the county for an initial one year period was approved by the authority’s Full Council on January 9, 2013.
To date Durham County Council has already saved more than £90m of the required overall figure.
However, members will be advised that precise planning continues to be difficult in light of uncertainties surrounding some funding and complexities around the revised formula for public sector grants.
The council’s Medium Term Financial Plan balances the budget for 2013/14 and the authority is committed to further widespread consultation this autumn to identify where the remaining savings should be found.
A full list of new projects plus more information on the savings and budget plan are available here.