Tough budget decisions to be made at Cumbria County Council Cabinet meeting next Thursday

First published in News

A BUDGET delivering an unprecedented fourth consecutive year of local authority funding reductions will be debated and put forward by Cumbria County Council’s cabinet when it meets on 30 January.

The central government funding settlement for Cumbria over the next three years (2014-17) means the authority has to save £89million.

At the same time, the government has yet to announce the level of council tax increase that would require a referendum to be held.

The £89m needed over the next three years is on top of £88m which the council has already saved since 2010/11. The savings challenge has become even tougher in recent weeks, as the full details of last month’s local government funding settlement have emerged.

More precise information on specific grant streams has come from government and the council is now working on the basis of needing to save £89m rather than the previous forecast of £80m. Savings for each year are £24.4m in 2014/15; £35.4m in 2015/16 and £30m in 2016/17.

All told, the council is losing one in every four pounds which it used to receive to fund local services.

Since October the council has been publicly consulting on a set of saving proposals which, added together, would deliver the £24.4m which the council needs to find in 2014/15.

The proposals include a reduction in back-office costs, putting prevention before cure when it comes to health, safety and wellbeing, and working with communities to develop local solutions to some of the challenges facing different parts of Cumbria.

As well as asking the public, stakeholders, partners and county council staff to consider the savings propositions, the council is also asking people to consider whether the council should accept the government's council tax freeze grant for the fourth consecutive year.

Freezing council tax for the fourth year in a row would mean the council will need to make the full £24.4m in savings in 2014/15.

More than 1,500 individuals and organisations completed the council’s main budget consultation survey; with several hundred separate letters and emails, and a number of petitions, also received.

Those completing the budget consultation signalled their support for the vast majority of budget saving propositions – showing the Cumbrian public understand the magnitude of the council’s financial challenge and agree that difficult decisions have to be made.

Only three of the 35 propositions registered more disagreement than agreement: the proposal to cease all bus subsidies, implement operational changes in fire and rescue and introduce on-street parking charges.

The consultation was not a referendum but the number of responses was the highest the county council has ever received. But a spokesman said it was still not a statistically representative sample of public opinion in Cumbria.

IAt next week’s cabinet meeting a final budget will be recommended to a meeting of the Full Council on February 13 for consideration.

Coun Jo Stephenson, Cumbria County Council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for resources, said: “The choices before councillors are extremely difficult. This makes it even more important to listen to the views of people across Cumbria before making decisions, and why I am grateful to everyone who has taken time to take part in our budget savings consultation."

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