Northumberland’s council leader has said that while there are difficult decisions to make, the authority’s finances are in a better state than a year ago.
A budget update report went before the county council’s cabinet at its meeting last Tuesday, which outlined the need for an additional £27million of savings over the next three years and an updated deficit figure of £36million.
Council leader Peter Jackson said: “When we became the administration of this council, we actually had it spelled out to us by council officers that the budget deficit was £65million that we had to fill. We have just about got to 50 per cent of our target already.
“There’s still some hard work to do and some difficult decisions to make, but the council’s finances are better than they were a year ago.
“Our number one priority is to maintain frontline services and not just maintain them, but improve them. It’s about doing more with less.”
The next step will see proposals for the additional savings drawn up to go before councillors in October, followed by a seven-week budget consultation.
These proposals will be developed using a series of principles which include ‘setting a balanced budget while maintaining modest and sustainable increases in council tax’ and ‘continuously reviewing services in order to keep reductions to front-line services to a minimum as a far as possible’.
One of the ‘difficult decisions’ relates to a proposed cut to council tax support, with Coun Nick Oliver, cabinet member for corporate resources, saying that it’s ‘only right and proper that we look at all areas of council spending’.
At the meeting, cabinet members agreed to launch a consultation on reducing the maximum level of support provided to working-age claimants from 100 per cent to 92 per cent.
This would affect around 12,000 people in Northumberland and would save around £1million a year.
Currently, Northumberland is one of only two councils in the region and 10 per cent nationally to pay 100 per cent relief. If the proposals were implemented, Northumberland’s scheme would still be the most generous in the region with the exception of Durham.
But Labour’s Coun Lynne Grimshaw previously described the proposed cut as ‘atrocious, picking on the most vulnerable’.
A consultation will run from Monday, September 24, until Friday, November 2. Details of how to respond will be published nearer the time.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service