North Yorkshire County Council dips into reserves to make up £3m budget shortfall

The council covering England's largest county will have to dip into its reserves in the upcoming financial year to make up a £3m budget shortfall.
County Hall, in Northallerton, the headquarters of North Yorkshire County Council.County Hall, in Northallerton, the headquarters of North Yorkshire County Council.
County Hall, in Northallerton, the headquarters of North Yorkshire County Council.

North Yorkshire County has identified £16.5m in annual savings for 2018/19, the latest of more than £140m in cuts made since government austerity measures were introduced in 2010.

But with a total of £19.5m in savings to be found in this year’s budget, which goes before leaders at the end of this month, the remainder will have to be taken from the authority’s reserves.

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The authority is likely to increase council tax by 4.99 per cent, which includes the two per cent allowed by the government to pay for adult social care, a rise equivalent to just under £5 a month for the average household.

Before Christmas, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid revealed that local councils, which have seen their central government funding dramatically reduced, would be able to raise council tax by an extra one per cent without triggering a costly referendum.

Gareth Dadd, North Yorkshire’s Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Finance, welcomed the move “in light of the very difficult decisions we face in continuing to meet the increasing demands on our services”.

He said in a statement at the time: “However, at best it can be nothing more than a temporary fix.

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“In itself a decision to raise council tax is also very difficult, given the impact that this will have on our residents.

“We are a high performing, low spending council praised for having a can-do culture, but we are concerned that overall the needs of rural areas are given low priority. We continue to protect the frontline and generate income, but without fairer long-term funding we face very hard choices.

“Council tax is only one part of our funding, and with the Government now announcing that it is consulting on council funding, we will continue to campaign vigorously for fairer funding for large rural councils like North Yorkshire.”

A number of savings have been announced by the council ahead of the publication of the draft budget, while officials are planning to increase fees and charges by up to three per cent.

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The authority hopes to save more than £2m a year with changes to its home to school transport policy for those with special educational needs or disabilities. It is consulting on removing the free-exemption for over-16s, meaning they would have to pay for transport they currently get for free.

The county council is also planning to make £1m in savings on support it provides for local schools, following up a similar cut it has already made. This means that if schools need help with financial leadership or curriculum development they will no longer get it for free.

Other plans include aiming to save £1.1m in 2018/19 by reducing the number of looked-after children and cutting out-of-authority placements for vulnerable young people.

At the same time, the council is committed to funding one-off projects worth a total of £30m, such as the A59 realignment at Kex Gill between Harrogate and Skipton, coastal erosion projects in Scarborough and Whitby and delivering superfast broadband county-wide.

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In recent weeks, a host of local authorities in Yorkshire have described the difficulties they face in setting a budget after years of cuts, most recently Leeds City Council, which is set to impose a five per cent council tax rise in a bid to plug a £38m funding black hole.