North Yorkshire County Council has agreed today (16th February 2011) to freeze council tax this year in a bid to keep down costs for householders who are facing difficult economic conditions.
The council has agreed a budget which attempts to deal with a very tough Government funding settlement without raising council tax.
The County Council faces major financial challenges over the next few years and has agreed a medium term financial strategy which requires substantial savings from all parts of the authority.
The Government’s settlement to North Yorkshire is compounded by other pressures such as the transition of responsibility for concessionary fares to the county council which has, in itself, led to an annual £5m deficit. This means that the county council has to find £69 million over the four year period, £37 million of which has to be found next year, and the majority of which has to be found in the first two years due to the frontloading of the Government settlement.
Speaking at today’s meeting, North Yorkshire’s leader, County Councillor John Weighell said: “I believe this is the best budget in the circumstances. I don’t like the frontloading, I don’t like any reduction in services and I don’t like the effect these cutbacks will have on the county’s economy but we really have had no choice but to set this budget.”
The freezing of council tax will make budget choices even tougher, but the county council understands that many households are struggling to make ends meet in the current economic climate and that the budget will have to be made to balance through savings.
As part of today’s budget decision county council members also agreed to play their part by reducing members’ mileage allowances from 48.5p to 40p for the first 8,500 miles (additional miles are claimed at 25p per mile.)
However, students aged 16-19 with special educational needs who faced having to pay for home school transport have been spared the charges after members voted today that the proposals should be dropped.
The proposed charges for SEN 16-19 year olds form part of a major consultation exercise on proposed changes to the county’s school transport arrangements. Although the consultation exercise is still underway, councillors agreed today that the £70,000 in savings that would have been found, are to be found from elsewhere within the home-to-school transport budget for special educational needs. County Councillor John Watson, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Schools said: “we have made this decision because students with special educational needs faced a “double whammy “ of having to pay for transport at the same time as having their Educational Maintenance allowance withdrawn by the Government.”
The county council has so far identified £54 million of savings and remains confident that it will be able to find all necessary savings over the course of the four year spending review. While it prepares a savings plan which will balance the books as well as protecting frontline services as much as possible, the county council has agreed a one-off proposal to draw on reserves to plug the shortfall in 2011/12.
County councillor John Weighell, North Yorkshire’s leader said: “We understand how difficult things are for households and families at the present time and so we are proposing not to raise council tax. However, North Yorkshire is a low spending and low taxing council which has already made £60m of savings already over the past five years. This leaves the authority with reduced scope for making savings through efficiency. Nevertheless we are doing everything possible to make tough spending decisions while protecting frontline services and the most vulnerable people in our society.”