In the coming year, Durham County Council will have to deal with a funding shortfall of £36 million due to central government cuts. The council has, however, pledged to protect frontline services from the worst of this austerity.
The council also says that the cuts mean that council tax will have to rise. £245 million of savings will need to be made in total between 2011 and 2020.
The leader of Durham County Council, Cllr Simon Henig, commented, “The impact of above average funding reductions for seven years has left Durham in a position that is neither proportionate nor fair.”
“Even the government’s own spending calculations show that Durham receives approximately £200 less per household than the average for England, and almost 20% less than Surrey, where the local authority is looking to raise its council tax rate by 15%.”
“This cannot be right and we are now seeing the results of a funding system that does not take account of need.”
“Despite this we are continuing to work hard to provide the highest levels of service across the county and there is still much for us to be proud of in County Durham.”
“In 2017, we will focus on our key priorities, continuing to encourage the growth of our economy and redoubling our efforts to make County Durham a safe, clean and green place to live.”
The council intends to make £23.4 million of savings in 2017-18. In Autumn 2016, a public consultation exercise found that two thirds of respondents backed the council’s budget plan.
But these cuts will not be enough to supply the £36 million of austerity the government is insisting on. The council’s Budget Support Reserve, a fund the council has set aside to cushion the effects of cuts on frontline services for as long as possible, can provide a further £12.6 million.
The council has said that council tax rises of almost 4% will also be necessary. In addition to a general rise of 1.99%, another 2% on top of that will be needed to pay for adult social care.
The government has permitted councils to raise the adult social care precept by 3%. However, Durham County Council says it does not want to do this as it wishes to avoid making the burden on the county’s taxpayers worse.
The council says it is determined to protect the services the public view as priorities, such as job creation measures, winter maintenance schemes, and efforts to encourage investment in County Durham.
Durham County Council’s deputy leader, Alan Napier, said, “Times are still incredibly tough for us, but through our careful management of the council’s finances over the last seven years we have put money aside in reserves and are able to use them to protect services for as long as we can.”
“By the end of 2016-17, we will have made £186 million of savings, and yet we face almost £60 million more over the next three years, taking us up to a decade of unprecedented austerity.”
Cllr Napier added, “I am pleased to announce that yet again we are still able to maintain the Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme (which helps those on low incomes with their council tax bills). This is despite government funding for the scheme being cut as part of austerity measures.”
You can learn more about the council’s plans by visiting www.democracy.durham.gov.uk.