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Council seeks views on budget proposals

Published September 07, 2023 10.36am

Residents in County Durham are being invited to have their say on proposals to balance council budgets next year and beyond.

The current financial position

We need to make £12.1million in budget savings for 2024/25 - even if council tax is increased - and are forecasting a budget gap of £56million over the next four years.

This financial position was reported to our Cabinet in July, when measures that will save us £2.2million next year were also agreed.

Views are now being sought on a fresh set of proposals to save an additional £3.7million.

Residents are also being asked to help us identify service areas from which the remaining £6.2million could be saved, and for their views on a council tax increase.

'Unavoidable financial pressures'

Cllr Richard Bell, our deputy leader and Cabinet member for finance, said: "Like all councils, we are facing unavoidable financial pressures driven by rising costs and increasing levels of demand, particularly for adults' and children's social care.

"To put it into perspective - we spend 47 per cent of our budget on providing adults' and children's social care to 2.5 per cent of the population.

"It is increasingly challenging to balance our budgets with the funding received from the Government and the income we are allowed to raise locally, which is primarily through council tax.

"That makes this another year in which we have some incredibly difficult decisions to make and we have no certainty about local government funding beyond next year, which also makes it very difficult to plan ahead.

"We're seeking people's views on a set of proposals that would save us a further £3.7million next year, along with views on where we might look for the remaining £6.2million we'll need to save to balance our budget.

"We're also asking people for their views on a council tax increase. Every one per cent of council tax equates to around £2.675million in income, and inflation is a big problem. As an example, one per cent on the pay bill is about the same as what we get from one per cent on council tax. So putting council tax up by less than the maximum permitted would result in our budget deficit increasing and more reductions to services being required to balance the books."

Protecting the most vulnerable

Councillor Bell added: "We have always endeavoured to maximise savings in management and administration services to protect front line services. That remains our preferred approach, but these savings have already largely been made over the last 10 years. Without extra funding, front line services are inevitably going to be impacted going forward and more so if we do not increase the council tax in line with Government expectations. We have written to Government and to the leadership of all the main political parties asking for a fundamental review of the system of financing councils.

"Making decisions between council tax increases and service reductions is never easy. We very much understand the financial challenges many of our residents are facing, which is why we're also proposing that we continue to protect the most vulnerable by extending our Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme in its existing form. The scheme offers a council tax discount to eligible residents on low incomes whether in work, unemployed or retired and is uncapped, which is unique across our region."

How to have your say

Residents can take part in the seven-week consultation, which closes at 5pm on Friday 20 October, by completing an online survey.

Paper surveys are available from libraries and Customer Access Points.

There is also the option for residents to attend their local Area Action Partnership (AAP) board meeting, where they can receive a presentation and fill in the survey.

For full details of the savings proposals, or to complete the online survey or book a place at one of the AAP meetings, visit our Budget consultation page.

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