Durham County Council has promised that it will protect frontline services despite the austerity measures being implemented by central government. The council aims to do this by following a plan that has received the backing of the majority of County Durham’s residents.
As a result of massive reductions in central government funding, the council will face a funding shortfall of £36 million in 2017/18. This is part of a planned £245 million of savings that will need to be made between 2011 and 2020.
Durham County Council leader Simon Henig said, “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 has scheduled savings worth £23.4 million for 2017-18. A public consultation exercise in autumn 2016 found that two-thirds of the people who responded to it supported the council’s plans.
But these savings will not cover the whole of the £36-million-worth of austerity demanded. A further £12.6 million will come from the council’s Budget Support Reserve, a reserve fund the council has set aside to delay the impact of cuts on frontline services.
There will also be some increases in council tax. As well as a general rise of 1.99%, there will be an additional 2% increase to fund adult social care, making an increase of almost 4% in total.
Although the government has given permission for the adult social care precept to be increased by 3%, the council says it will not do this as it doesn’t wish to increase the burden on County Durham’s taxpayers.
Durham County Council says that it will continue to protect services prioritised by the public, such as job creation initiatives, winter maintenance measures, and supporting capital investment in the county.
Alan Napier, the council’s deputy leader, 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.”
Councillor Napier also remarked that the council will be able to maintain its Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme, which helps people on low incomes pay their council tax. Cllr Napier stressed this was despite funding for the scheme being cut by central government.
To find out more, please go to www.democracy.durham.gov.uk.