Council budget approved as pressures highlighted

People in government have no idea of the pressures on the North East, Northumberland County Council’s Liberal Democrat finance leader Coun Andrew Tebbutt declared as he produced another cost-slashing budget.

After four years in which the county administration has cut £100million in spending and 1,500 employees, he foresees much worse for the winners of the May election.

The Morpeth councillor said: “No one can fail to recognise that the challenges for the next four years are likely to be even greater than those of the last four years. High savings targets are daunting in the extreme. Next year’s difficult enough, but the predictions for the following two years are traumatic.

“There appears to be a complete lack of understanding in government and particularly DCLG (Eric Pickles’s Department for Communities and Local Government) about the pressures that occur in this part of the country.

“All of the statistics show that this region needs extra support, with Northumberland the poor relation even of its neighbours. But all our pleas bring no response and there are none so deaf as they who won’t hear.”

The coming year’s savings target was £5.8million more than predicted 12 months ago. Northumberland had lost £25million as a result of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s autumn statement in early December. The loss had been partly compensated for in grants, but made worse by factors such as transferring NHS public health work to councils.

He praised the surviving county council staff, who had gathered several national awards and recognitions of excellence despite the turmoil.

In setting a budget of £467million for the coming year – of which £200 million goes direct to schools – the council is cutting another £23million. Over three years the reduction will be £86million.

Coun Tebbutt’s medium-term financial plan to 2016 and the 2013-14 budget were approved yesterday by 47 votes to 15 as Labour voted with the LibDems while the Conservatives abstained, saying more should be spent on roads. The capital budget for the three years is about £314million.

• For more from yesterday’s budget meeting and the reactions of the two opposition parties, see next week’s Gazette.