Members of the Executive of North Yorkshire County Council today agreed a budget that will lead to radical changes in services in order to bring about “unprecedented” levels of savings while maintaining the quality of front-line delivery.
The final decision on savings will be made at the council’s quarterly meeting on 19 February 2014.
After three years of frozen council tax bills, the Executive agreed to recommend a 1.99% increase. If approved by the full county council the move would produce income of around £4.6m, to set against a budget requirement of just under £373 million. Even with a tax increase, the council will need to take more than £1.3m from its reserves.
Since 2011, North Yorkshire County Council has implemented and made plans for total cuts in its spending of around £170m. A programme of savings totalling £94m is already in train, including cuts of approximately £20m which take effect in the 12 months beginning this April.
The savings represent a reduction in the council’s spending power of approximately 34% … at a time when the demand for the services it provides is continually rising. There has been, for example, a 75% increase in child protection cases, and at the other end of the age-range, more than a quarter of the adult population of North Yorkshire is over the age of 65. Every year, the population of older people increases, and with it the demand for the care and support which the council provides.
The council’s Chief Executive at today’s meetingRichard Flinton said: The sheer enormity of this budget and the challenge it sets out for us is unprecedented in the life of the county council,” “We cannot address this level of saving through year-on-year piecemeal cuts. What this budget sets out is a very significant programme of change.
The council is preparing plans to deal with austerity measures which are likely to continue at least until the end of the decade. The programme – “2020 North Yorkshire” – envisages a smaller council, more flexible and agile, enabling and supporting others, particularly within local communities, to deliver for themselves, and providing strong leadership on issues which are important to the people of North Yorkshire.
The savings already achieved have been overwhelmingly targeted at ‘back office’ and management structures. The council will continue to achieve efficiencies in these areas. The budget recommendations to be considered next week will inevitably result in some front line services receiving less money. However the council will make every effort to protect the most vulnerable residents.
Cllr Carl Les, Executive Member for Central and Financial Services and North Yorkshire’s deputy leader, said: We will of course try to mitigate the impact of these savings on our communities” “But with 34 per cent of spending power taken out of the authority through these cuts, we cannot deliver services as we have in past and there has to be radical change in the way we do things.
Among the proposals to be considered are:
- a review of library provision, with the aim of encouraging more community involvement and ownership; some libraries which are not taken over by their local communities are likely to be closed
- a review of early years provision (including children’s centres) which will examine new ways of delivery, in tandem with other services such as youth services and libraries. The review is likely to result in the closure of some children’s centres, although front line work will work be protected.
- a review of how household waste recycling centres are operated, examining the possibilities for income generation or possibly transfer to commercial operators. Closure of some sites is also possible.
- a reduction of some £750,000 in the winter maintenance budget – to be achieved by efficiency savings but not by reducing the proportion of the highways network which currently receives severe weather protection
- further restructuring within the council, leading over time to a significant reduction in posts.
In addition to the savings, some areas of the Council’s activities are recommended for further financial investment. They include Extra Care housing provision for the elderly, the Superfast North Yorkshire broadband programme, and a £5million programme of repairs and maintenance on the highways network, to help remedy the damage caused by recent severe winters and flooding incidents.