A BUDGET delivering a fourth consecutive year of local authority funding reductions has been recommended for approval by Cumbria County Council’s cabinet today.
Cabinet members agreed a draft budget for 2014/15 which outlines how the council will save £24.4 million this year from April. Delivering these savings will mean the county council is saving over £112 million a year compared with the level of funding it received in 2010 before the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review.
All told, the council needs to save another £89 million between 2014/15 and 2016/17 – on top of the £88 million which the council has already saved since 2010/11.
The medium term financial plan recommended by cabinet sets out the full savings required over the next three years. These are £24.4m in 2014/15; £35.4m in 2015/16 and £30m in 2016/17.
At the same time, the government has yet to announce the level of council tax increase that would require a referendum to be held. Given this uncertainly, cabinet has recommended that the council accepts the freeze grant and for there to be no increase in the level of council tax for the fourth year running.
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.
Following the consultation, cabinet has decided to modify six of the original 35 savings propositions. The six are: to cease all bus subsidies, implement operational changes in fire and rescue, slim down the council’s scrutiny role, introduce on-street parking charges, withdraw post-16 travel assistance for most new students and charge for residents’ parking permits.
An increase in the amount received from government revenue grants will be used in 2014/15 to enable changes to parking and bus services to be phased in and, in the case of buses, support the development of more community transport alternatives.
Headline items from the budget agreed by cabinet today are: * The county council's share of the charge on a Band D property will remain at £1,161.50 for the fourth consecutive year if the draft budget is agreed by Full Council.
* The five second fire engines in Kendal, Maryport, Penrith, Whitehaven and Workington will not be removed.
* A one-off revenue fund of £300,000 will be made available to allow for an integrated, smooth and phased introduction of both on-street parking charges and charging for residents’ parking permits.
* To enable communities to have the opportunity to respond to the withdrawal of subsidised bus services and post-16 transport for new students, a one-off £1million transition fund will be set up. In addition, £500,000 of capital has been set aside over the next two years to help communities and post-16 providers.
* £76,000 has also been made available to support the introduction and delivery of the government’s initiative to provide universal free schools meals for infant pupils * To respond to members concerns about their ability to hold Cabinet to account – the proposal to save money on Scrutiny will be scrapped.
Coun Jo Stephenson, deputy leader and cabinet member for resources at Cumbria County Council, said: “The scale of the financial challenge facing the county council is unprecedented.
“The county council is at the half way mark in a six year journey that will see its budget reduced by one in every four pounds that it used to receive to pay for local services. In total, this equates to roughly £769 for every household in Cumbria.
“The public consultation that has helped shape our draft budget has been the biggest ever and I would like to sincerely thank all those who took part.
“People who completed the budget consultation signalled their support for the vast majority of saving propositions – showing that the people of Cumbria understand the magnitude of the council’s financial challenge and acknowledge that difficult decisions have to be made.
“While the sheer volume of savings which the council needs to make means it will never be possible to avoid tough and unpalatable decisions, I hope today’s choices show how the cabinet has tried to minimise the effects of the changes that need to be made, within the limited resources available. “It also remains the case that the biggest single amount of savings in the new financial year will come from freeing up more management and administrative savings from across the council, as it becomes a smaller organisation.
“Delivering these savings will continue to be a painful and difficult process. We are nonetheless determined never to undermine our responsibilities to vulnerable people in Cumbria.”