Maximum council tax rise and £43million of cuts expected for Northumberland as chiefs aim to make ends meet

Northumberland County Council is facing up to budget cuts totalling £43.5million over the next three years.

Northumberland County Council is facing tough decisions as officers prepare to steer the authority through some more gloomy times.
Northumberland County Council is facing tough decisions as officers prepare to steer the authority through some more gloomy times.

The authority is beginning its budget process for 2021-22, with the initial report being discussed by the corporate services committee and then the cabinet next week.

It explains that savings of £8.3million are needed to balance the budget for next year, while ‘provisional savings requirements of £19.8million and £15.3million have been calculated as necessary for the following two financial years’.

The medium-term financial plan covering 2021-22, 2022-23 and 2023-24, will continue to be updated and a revised version will be presented to the cabinet as the budget process develops, but it is currently based on assumptions including that the council will receive a cash-flat Government settlement over the next three years, that additional funding received for adult and children’s social care this year will become recurrent and that there will be no increase or decrease in the Better Care Fund.

It is also expected that the level of increase in council tax above which a referendum must be held remains at 2%, which means that Northumberland ratepayers face 2% hikes in each of the next three years.

These assumptions are based on the fact that ‘the national finances are in a highly uncertain position due to Covid-19 and the impact of the UK exit from the European Union’.

The report to councillors says: ‘Local government is operating in a period of significant financial uncertainty brought about by ongoing significant budget pressures (including in social care, special educational needs and disability services), as well as other unfunded pressures arising from demographic, pay and price inflation.

‘Forecasting the likely ongoing impact of Covid-19 upon the council’s expenditure, income and Government funding levels add a further layer of complexity and uncertainty.

‘Unless additional Government funding is provided in the spending review, the financial outlook for the council will continue to be extremely challenging for the foreseeable future.’

It also notes that while the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) was originally expected in summer 2019 to cover a period of three years, it is now expected to be published in November 2020 and will only cover 2021-22, with the Government ‘already indicating that there will be tough choices in relation to investment in public services’.

The £8.3million savings target for next year is made up of £3.2million from adult wellbeing and health, £1.4million from children’s services, £1.1million from community services, £1million from local services, £950,000 from corporate services, £500,000 from culture, arts and leisure, and £300,000 from across the council through a 25% reduction to travel and subsistence budgets.

Ahead of the budget being agreed by the full council at its meeting in February 2021, there will be a six-week public consultation ‘to help guide and inform the annual budget-setting process’, with the details to follow.

The papers were prepared shortly before the Prime Minister announced a second national lockdown for England.

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