Northumberland County Councl leader criticises Spending Review

Coun Grant Davey.
Coun Grant Davey.

The leader of Northumberland County Council has criticised the latest Government Spending Review which he says leaves the council facing core funding cuts of up to 36 per cent up to 2019/20.

Since 2009, the council has had its budget cut by £160million. Further cuts of £44million in revenue are in the process of being implemented this year and next.

Following today’s announcements, it is forecast that further cuts of approximately £56million will be required between 2017/18 and 2019/20. A one-off payment of £20million from the council’s reserves and balances would be used to support the budget.

Coun Grant Davey, Leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “Yet again local government has taken the bulk of the hit in the Government’s cuts. This can’t go on. Already in Northumberland we are consulting on closing a fire station, have cut post-16 school transport and subsidised bus routes to make these unfair cuts and there are many more examples. These are not things we want to do, but we have been given no other choice by this government.

"We are doing our best to protect frontline services such as libraries and tourist information centres by co-locating them with other council services to significantly reduce costs whereas other local authorities have closed them all together. However there will soon be nothing left to cut. We are reaching the tipping point now where even the most vital and statutory services will be hit.

"Whilst the ability to increase council tax by two per cent for dedicated spend on social care seems a good idea – raising just under £3million in Northumberland - this is a drop in the ocean compared to the overall social care budget, whilst demand for social care is at an all-time high and we have to fund it through our ever decreasing revenue reserves. The need for social care will only increase, we are living longer and the older population is growing whilst the number of people of working age is falling. In Northumberland we have more older people than the national average which places even greater pressures on us.”

In implementing the cuts, Northumberland County Council has made a commitment to protecting frontline services. In many cases, this is resulting in reductions and relocation of some services and increased charges in others rather than completely removing them. This includes reducing grass cutting, co-locating some libraries with other services rather than closing them, increased charges for some DIY waste and a review of public toilets.

The council has a regeneration strategy for the county which it says is aimed at driving and encourage growth in all market towns. The authority adds that the programme is ultimately aimed at generating about £365m into the regional economy.

Since the Government cuts in 2010, Northumberland County Council’s workforce (excluding schools) has reduced by a fifth; shedding the equivalent of 843 full-time jobs.

Coun Davey: "We are doing all we can to keep vital services; investing in town centres to kick start the local economy, generating jobs in the county, improving education and providing affordable housing. This is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve with such huge cuts in our budget. Our local opposition councillors are quick to criticise the Council for implementing their Government’s cuts but I don’t see them making the case for what they would do or calling for more money for the benefit of people Northumberland.

"The Government’s fixation with reserves is smoke and mirrors as they know full well that they don’t resolve the issue. Most of the reserves cannot be spent as they are already being used to fund other things; such as our estates rationalisation, funding for schools and tackling winter pressures, along with the extra pressures on adult social care and cuts to housing revenue.

"They can help councils over a period of time to implement the cuts but if you use them to pay for the cuts – you can only do this once as council’s will need to find the same cuts the following year and year after that, and so on; and this is on top of the fresh cuts we face each year, essentially making them bankrupt. They also know that we can’t borrow like they can to fund revenue expenditure.”

The council will find out more about its detailed budget settlement in late December.