Principal councils preparing for government cuts

Long Stratton, Norfolk. South Norfolk Council Offices in Long Stratton ENGANL00120111130173715
Long Stratton, Norfolk. South Norfolk Council Offices in Long Stratton ENGANL00120111130173715

South Norfolk Council and Norfolk County Council say they are preparing for potential government funding cuts of up to 40 per cent.

In the summer, Chancellor George Osborne launched a spending review on Whitehall budgets, asking departments to identify saving plans of 25 and 40 per cent by 2020.

The spending review, identifying up to £20bn worth of government cuts, will take place on November 25. It means principal councils including Suffolk County Council, Norfolk County Council, South Norfolk Council and Mid Suffolk District Council, partly supported by the Department of Communities and Local Government could see a potential cut in funding.

A spokesperson for Norfolk County Council said the authority was currently going through the budget setting process for the next three years, with consultation on the proposals set for the coming months.

The council said the proposals for Re-Imagining Norfolk are set out in a report from the county council’s Managing Director, Dr Wendy Thomson, who says that fundamental change is needed in local government, now that the outcome of the election and continuation of the Government’s austerity policy is set.

Since 2011/12, the authority has seen cuts to its grant of £124m, and has identified more than £245m in savings.

With further cuts “expected”, projections need to find a further £111m of savings on those already identified a 15 per cent reduction.

The authority are in the process of drawing up plans to find 25 per cent of savings equivalent to £169m to allow for “headroom”.

George Nobbs, Leader of the Council, said: “We are being open and frank from the start of this process about the mountain we have to climb. Despite unprecedented efficiencies we still find ourselves having to take out more from the council.

“Whilst we need to make savings equivalent to 15 per cent over the next three years, at this stage we are asking councillors to plan for a 25 per cent reduction. This will give us headroom for choice, and some contingency, should we have to find more.

“But even with this, we will still be a billion pound organisation and we need to use every penny of that to get the best possible results we can for the people of Norfolk. ”

A statement from South Norfolk Council said the authority was already “factoring in” reductions of 33 per cent in real terms in the funding they receive from central government in their Medium Term Plan.

They have also launched an online consultation for local businesses to have their on which services provided by the council should be prioritised (read the full story on page 8), with Councillor Michael Edney, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources adding: “Funding from central government continues to be reduced.

“South Norfolk Council is facing increasing pressure on its ability to deliver a balanced budget and faces a funding gap over the next four years in the region of £1 million.”

But how would cuts to principal councils affect Diss?

Town Clerk Deborah Sarson said because of the way the authority is funded, there would be no direct impact on the town council.

“Diss Town Council’s funding comes directly from council tax payers who live within the parish of Diss, income it generates from property it owns, or from grants,” she told the Diss Express.

“The only exception to this relates to a change in the way that Council Tax Benefit is funded which has resulted in the government providing funding to local authorities to pass on to town and parish councils to cover a funding shortfall created by this change. “There is no mechanism for central government to pay money directly to local councils.

“Because of the way Diss Town Council is funded, cuts of 40 per cent to principal authorities would have no direct impact. It could, however have a direct impact on the community of Diss depending on what services are cut.

“Ultimately the local community might ask the Town Council to take on services that higher tier authorities are discontinuing and if so, all the implications including cost and opportunities would have to be closely investigated before deciding whether to proceed.”