Proposed measures to reduce the significant strain on council budgets will be discussed by councillors next week.
Durham County Council’s Cabinet will be presented with finalised 2023/24 budget proposals and Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) for the next four years.
The plan includes measures to mitigate the significant financial pressures currently affecting council revenue budgets, including high levels of inflation, particularly in adult social care, and increased demand for children’s social care.
Last month, Cabinet was presented with a report which identified that the required savings to meet these shortfalls could be reduced from £52m over the next four years to £41m if certain measures are put in place.
The position was updated taking on board the government’s Autumn Statement and the Local Government Provisional Finance Settlement, in which some additional funding to meet rising cost pressures in social care, including specific grant funding to facilitate early discharge of patients from hospital, was announced.
The government has also increased the council tax referendum limit to 2.99 per cent and allowed an additional two percent increase in adult social care precepts in 2023/24 and 2024/25, with an expectation that all local authorities raise council tax by the maximum amount available.
Despite this and the delivery of £12.4m of savings and budget reductions next year, Cabinet will hear that the council will need to use £10.2m of its cash reserves to balance its budget.
Cllr Richard Bell, Durham County Council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for finance, said: “We remain committed to strong financial governance and getting value for public money while ensuring we have a sustainable balanced budget.
“The budget and Medium Term Financial Plan seek to do this, taking into careful consideration how any changes may affect residents.
“It is important to note the increases in our costs are almost entirely due to inflationary and demand pressures, not spending decisions by the council.
“Despite this very challenging financial period and the significant base budget pressures, we remain ambitious to deliver the best for our county, and this report includes some very positive outcomes for the people of County Durham.”
As well as highlighting mounting cost pressures, the budget also includes ongoing investment in a range of capital schemes to boost the local economy and invest in public buildings and infrastructure.
This includes £122m of proposed new capital expenditure, bringing the council’s overall capital programme to £778m over the next four years – the largest programme of investment the council has ever approved.
Councillors will hear that this year’s budget will put a focus on school provision, town centres and infrastructure, transport schemes, and maintenance of the county’s highways and pavements.
Investment will also be allocated to economic assets, such as phase three of NETPark, and decarbonisation projects to meet the council’s climate changes targets for both its internal operations and the wider county.
Cabinet will also hear that 54,700 households in the county benefit from the authority’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme, through which 80 per cent receive a 100 per cent relief against council tax payments.
Households eligible for council tax reduction will remain fully protected by this scheme, and financial support continues to be available through the council’s welfare assistance programme and a range of other initiatives it has in place to help people struggling with costs.
Next year, working age claimants who have a bill to pay will receive up to £110 of additional top up support, with pensioners also receiving up to £50 of additional top up, to further help and support those financial vulnerable households struggling with the cost of living.
For more information about financial support offered by the council, visit www.durham.gov.uk/helpwithyourmoney.
Cabinet will hear more details when it meets on Wednesday, February 8, at 9.30am.