Decisions to consult on savings whilst seeking to protect frontline services in the face of both inflationary and demand-driven cost pressures are set to be discussed by councillors next week.
Members of Durham County Council’s Cabinet will hear the authority’s updated Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) forecasts, which have been revised against a background of ongoing significant financial uncertainty for local government.
The uncertainty continues to be driven by short-term local government finance settlements alongside significant budget pressures in social care brought about by National Living Wage increases and enduring demographic pressures in children’s social care.
It also includes the ongoing inflationary impact of pay awards and supplies and service costs, such as in waste and transport, which outstrip the authority’s local tax raising capacity.
Cllr Richard Bell, deputy leader of Durham County Council and cabinet member for finance, said: “Despite the increases in grant funding we have been provided with in the current year and the grant we expect to receive next year, our forecasts show that this will fall short of what we need to set a balanced budget next year.
“We simply cannot raise sufficient income locally to meet the unavoidable cost increases we face each year so unless government funding meets the shortfall, difficult choices are always going to be required under the current system of funding.
“We have and will continue to call for the current system, including council tax, to be reformed.
“Future financial settlements for local government beyond 2024/25 and how available funding will be shared between local authorities under the current system is still unclear.
“As a result, some tough decisions will continue to need to be made to safeguard support for the most vulnerable, in the face of these unavoidable ongoing cost pressures.
“Such uncertainty continues to make financial planning extremely challenging and requires us to be flexible and adaptable in our approach.
“However, the strong financial controls we have in place and our track record in terms of managing our budgets and medium term financial planning arrangements, will ensure that we will be able to react effectively to any outcome.
“We remain committed to strong financial governance and getting value for
money for public money while ensuring we have a sustainable balanced budget.”
Cabinet will hear about the initial measures the council intends to consult upon to begin to meet the £12.135m required to balance the 2024/25 budget while protecting frontline services and vulnerable residents wherever possible.
This is being considered with the assumption that the council agrees to maximise its council tax raising powers when it sets its budget next year.
Cabinet will be asked to recommend to full council in the autumn that the Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme should remain unchanged for 2024/25, offering eligible residents a discount of up to 100 per cent on their council tax charge.
Cabinet will hear more details when it meets on Wednesday, July 12, at 9.30am.