£250m: What Durham council must cut by 2019

The North-East’s biggest council expects to have to cut its spending by more than quarter of a billion pounds by 2019, it announced today (Tuesday, January 6).

Financial experts at Durham County Council have been frantically crunching the numbers since Chancellor George Osborne delivered his Autumn Statement and the Government announced its local government funding settlement for 2015-16 in December.

While the budget reductions announced by the Chancellor were widely predicted, the extension of austerity means by 2019 central government grants to Durham will have fallen by 60 per cent since 2011 and the cuts total will have topped £250m.

The Labour-led council also had to cut £18m following the Coalition’s emergency budget in late 2010.

Previously, council leader Simon Henig claimed another Tory-led government would mean “the end of local council services as we recognise them”.

Today (Tuesday, January 6), he said the authority was “largely on track” to deliver the required savings, but added: “There is no doubt that facing these continued cuts we will no longer be able to protect frontline services.”

The council is expected to cut £16.2m and spend £10m of its reserves in the year from April and the budget will be top of the agenda when the cabinet meets in Durham Town Hall next Wednesday (January 11).

A council tax hike of two per cent, the biggest allowed without a local referendum, is expected in the 2015-16 budget, which will be finally agreed in February.

The council’s opposition groups are expected to announce alternative proposals shortly.

Northern town halls are furious that poorer areas are being hit hardest by austerity.

While December’s funding settlement saw councils lose an average 1.8 per cent of their spending power across the country, Durham was down 2.7 per cent, Newcastle by 4.9 per cent and Middlesbrough by 5.6 per cent.

In contrast, Surrey’s spending power grew by 3.1 per cent. North Yorkshire will gain 1.1 per cent.

Durham expects to have cut £136.9m from its spending by April, leaving £88.5m-worth of savings still to find by 2018.

Local government minister Kris Hopkins said the Coalition had been vindicated, because councils were still delivering good quality services with a reduced amount of money.

> There’s Tory thinking for you… and if you continue to cope, they’ll cut funding further because obviously you don’t need it.

If you don’t cope, they’ll cut funding anyway, because you’re in the North and don’t vote Tory, unlike Surrey and North Yorkshire.

Source – Durham Times,  06 Jan 2015

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