Grim reading for economy in report on future budgets

Cuts to local authority budgets have disproportionately hit residents in Northumberland compared with other ‘shire’ counties, according to a report.

A report to yesterday’s full council meeting stated that the Local Government Association has identified that the total local authorities budget will be faced with a funding gap of £16.5billion a year by 2019/20, equating to a 29 per cent shortfall.

Based on the assumption that social care for children and adults and environmental services will have to be fully funded, this means other services will take a 66 per cent hit by the end of the decade.

The report suggests that this would require Northumberland County Council to slash another £85million by 2016.

Already, over the past three years, £102million has been cut, equivalent to £75 to £100 per resident – disproportionately higher than other shire counties.

The report also warns that the dire economic situation extends to jobs with a heavy reliance on public sector employment in the county.

What’s more, 85 per cent of businesses in the county employ less than five people, with the top 20 companies’ combined workforce totalling 6,100, but with many of these jobs being unskilled, low paid and part-time.

It also mentions the decline of traditional trades as well as the dispersed population making accessibility to skills, jobs, supply chains, services and markets more challenging and expensive.

But the report, from the 
Future Service Provision Working Group, does also detail what the county council is doing to respond.

Actions include the broadband investment programme, the establishment of the development company Arch and lobbying central government for funding to support jobs and the economy.

It also refers to developing close working relationships with local further and higher educational establishments with a view to expanding the curriculum offer available as well as teaming up with town and parish councils and social enterprises.