Funding cuts are having a major impact on the running of one of the county’s most prized landscapes, it has been claimed.
The Northumberland National Park Authority has said that it now has a ‘bare minimum of resources’ to operate and is turning to its volunteers to make an even bigger contribution than ever before, according to the Campaign for National Parks.
The organisation has seen its funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) cut by 38 per cent in real terms, from £3.5million in 2010/11 to £2.1million in 2014/15.
It has also been hit by a cash reduction totalling £314,000 in real terms following falls in grants, retail revenues and bank interest rates over the same period.
As a result, the Authority, which receives four fifths of its income from the National Park Grant, has had to cut its staff by 40 per cent, from 81.5 full-time equivalents in April 2010 to 48.7 in 2015.
On top of this, it has been reported that Defra has agreed to a budget cut of £83m this year, ahead of a deeper cuts programme, which is set to be announced in the Government’s Summer Budget on Wednesday.
As a result of the cuts, Northumberland has stopped its climate change and apprenticeship programmes, closed down its sustainable business support and closed two of its three visitor centres.
It has also had to cut marketing and tourism spend, education and engagement and ranger services, among other things.
However, the Authority has said that it believes that it has been able to balance its reduced budget for 2015/16 through a combination of efficiency reviews, ambitious income generating targets and one-off use of reserves.
And the organisation believes its enterprising and innovative forward-work programme would deliver many public benefits, including establishing the nation’s first landscape discovery centre and rural enterprise hubs for start-up and micro-businesses.
Fiona Howie, Campaign for National Parks chief executive, said the effects of the cuts have had significant impact on the range of services delivered by the Northumberland National Park Authority and that any future cuts would have a severe impact on those that remain.
She added: “Closing down information centres will inevitably have an impact on visitors who want to visit and better understand the Park. But the cuts are also having an impact on local communities through the closure of programmes focused on rural business and community support.
“National Park Authorities should be spending time promoting our National Parks as our most treasured jewels in the crown and not having to look over their shoulder and deal with damaging and painful, piece-meal year on year cuts.
“We know that National Park Authorities are trying to be creative about accessing new funding streams, but National Parks are nationally important assets. They need to be properly valued by the Government and supported financially to make sure they are able to continue to deliver important environmental, social, economic and cultural benefits to both local communities and the nation.