Funding cut is 14 per cent, not one, says council leader

The leaders of the seven North East councils, including Northumberland's Grant Davey, back left.
The leaders of the seven North East councils, including Northumberland's Grant Davey, back left.

The leader of Northumberland County Council has criticised the Government for publishing figures which minimised the impact cuts are having on local authorities, while also highlighting millions of investment in the budget.

Investments in the county totalling more than £350million over the next two years are being recommended to councillors next month. The ambitious proposals come alongside the £44million savings the council has to make over the next two years, with the authority critical of the way central government has handled its finance settlement for the coming year.

In common with a number of other local authorities, Northumberland County Council felt the Government’s published spending power figures minimised the impact cuts were having, as they included ring-fenced funding and money not under the direct control of councils, which should be excluded from the calculation.

Government figures show a reduction from £307million to £304million. But stripping out the ring-fenced money, Northumberland’s Settlement Funding Assessment has fallen from £139million to just more than £119million – a drop of more than 14 per cent.

Coun Grant Davey, leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “Setting a budget in the current financial climate poses a real challenge for councils across the country and this is compounded by central government’s handling of the 2015/16 finance settlement. We’ve spent many months looking very carefully at every area of our business to see how we can reduce expenditure, increase income and make savings while minimising the impact on frontline services, residents and council staff.

“However, the Government continues to publish spending power figures which don’t actually reflect the position many authorities, including ours, find themselves in. This is not a political issue, it is a fact. A better measure of the actual funding cuts faced by the council would be the reduction in core funding.

“For Northumberland, this equates to 14.3 per cent, significantly in excess of the Government’s quoted spending power reduction of one per cent. This comes at a time when this council, like many others, is coming under increasing pressure to provide or enable essential statutory services for adults and children where demand continues to grow.

“However, we have to work with the money we’re given and despite these challenges we are planning ambitious investment in the future of this county. Our proposals include new social housing, funding towards a scheme to reopen the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne railway line and investments in improved education, including more than £12million towards the complete rebuild of three schools.”

The latest budget report will be considered by the authority’s policy board on Tuesday, February 10, before it goes before the full council a fortnight later.