• Fri. Jun 14th, 2024

North East Connected

Hopping Across The North East From Hub To Hub

County Council agrees budget to address challenges ahead

North Yorkshire County Council members today (21 February) agreed a package of budget measures to address the financial challenges ahead and to seek to protect frontline services.

County Councillor Gareth Dadd, North Yorkshire’s Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Finance, told today’s full council meeting: “By the end of March we will have delivered £142m of recurring savings, but the financial challenges will last well into the next decade. That is why we have to continue to plan for the medium to long term and not focus just on the next year. This approach has served us well and puts us in a stronger position than many other councils, some of which are now facing the real prospect of failing to deliver a balanced budget for next year.”

The budget package includes 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 overall increase is equivalent to just under £5 a month for an average household.

Councillor Carl Les, Leader of the County Council, said: “We reluctantly have recommended increasing council tax by 4.99%. At the same time, we have identified further savings of £30m over the next four years, which leaves a recurring shortfall of £11m to be found. Therefore, we will need to find further savings as we seek to address reductions in government funding and growing demand for our services to the most vulnerable groups in society.

“This year’s final local government settlement announced additional funding of £3.2m in 2018/19. While this is welcome, it is one-off and does not reduce our recurring savings gap. We will continue, along with our North Yorkshire MPs, to press the case for a fairer deal for rural councils and I will be setting out the Council’s position in our response to the government’s Fairer Funding consultation.”

The council tax increase includes an additional 1% general council tax that the government gave local councils the opportunity to raise without triggering a referendum.

Cllr Les added: “Not to take advantage of the flexibility for councils to access a further 1% in council tax would require finding a further £3m of savings, but it emphasises that rural counties need to raise more taxes locally compared to other councils. I hope the Fairer Funding review will address this disparity, and we will be contributing to the review both individually and through the County Council Network.

“We believe that we are not able to achieve the further savings we need from the back office and administration alone. We need to look at service changes and cuts. We face additional pressures, with wage rises and inflation, and while we have always looked to keep council tax low we believe it’s right to take advantage of the flexibility offered to us and protect services for our most vulnerable residents.”

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 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 County Council 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 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.

By admin