North Yorkshire County Council’s Executive yesterday (30 January) recommended a package of budget savings to address the financial challenges ahead and to seek to protect frontline services as the authority enters an eighth year of austerity.
By April, the County Council will have made savings of about £142m since the start of the decade. A further £44m in savings is expected to be required by 2021/22. Of this, £33.6m of savings has been identified and set before the Executive for approval, leaving a shortfall of £10.7m still to be found.
The budget package includes a recommendation for an increase in general council tax next year of 2.99% along with a 2% social care precept, making a total of 4.99%.
This recommendation was made against a backdrop of the need to meet increasing pressure on council services, the prospect of on-going austerity into the next decade and the continuing need to make savings.
The recommended increase includes an additional 1% general council tax that the government gave local councils the opportunity to raise without triggering a referendum. The overall 4.99% increase would be equivalent to just under £5 a month for an average household.
The County Council’s financial strategy is based on a similar 4.99% increase next year followed by an increase in general council tax alone of 1.99% for each year thereafter up to 2021/22 to enable the authority to prioritise frontline services.
The Executive recognises the additional burden the recommended increase places on North Yorkshire’s householders and will continue its campaign for fairer funding from government.
County Councillor Gareth Dadd, North Yorkshire’s Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Finance, said: “I propose this council tax rise very reluctantly. We must do what we can to protect services for the vulnerable, the elderly and the young. They are fewer than, for example, those using the roads, but it is our duty to do the right thing by them in a civilised society. We must protect the vulnerable.
“On the other side of coin, we understand that with increasing demand for our services the burden of these costs is shifting onto the taxpayers. North Yorkshire pays more council tax, gets less government funding and has higher costs due to the delivery of services across England’s largest rural authority.
“The county’s taxpayers should be assured that we will continue our campaign for fairer funding from government for large rural areas like North Yorkshire. We will be making our voice heard at a national level.”
The county continues to face increasing pressure on services, particularly in adult social care. For example, the additional demands on adult social care and special educational needs in the current year already amount to £6m.
The County Council has protected adult social care spending to a greater extent than many other councils and now spends 42% of its budget on the social care of older people and vulnerable adults. There are 140,000 people in North Yorkshire (out of a 600,000 population) aged over 65, of which 13.5% (19,000) are aged over 85. National studies show North Yorkshire is already at a place the rest of the country will reach in 2020.
At the same time, the Executive recognises the need to continue to invest in programmes such as roads maintenance, major highways schemes, further expansion of superfast broadband and extra care facilities to support the vulnerable and to boost the county’s growth and economic development. The budget report identifies areas for one-off investments, for example £10.8m over the next two years to replace the remaining streetlights across the county with LED units, which will deliver financial savings and environmental benefits.
The Executive’s recommendation will be considered by the full council at its meeting on 21 February.