Park staff may bear brunt of £500,000 budget cut

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STAFF at a national park could be asked to take unpaid leave and reduce their working hours as part of a range of measures being considered to bridge a potential £552,000 blackhole in its budgets.

The final grant settlement for North York Moors National Park Authority has yet to be set, but a report on its budget proposals for the next financial year which are due to go before a key committee on Monday warns of some difficult decisions ahead.

“Having achieved three years of painful but planned and relatively organised decline, it is now necessary to tackle the prospect of further cuts plus the continuing loss of expected income,” the report said.

Proposals to plug the shortfall include dipping into the authority’s reserves for £125,000, achieving transport savings of £50,000, not filling staff vacancies £75,000, and curtailing and “top-slicing” various discretionary budgets, saving £302,000, particularly in the fields of conservation and recreation.

But it seems clear that the authority’s 100 staff will be asked to bear some of the pain. During the last round of budget cuts in 2010, about £250,000 was cut from the annual budget through a reduction in working hours and voluntary redundancies.

But although the report says there are likely to be fewer staff the authority would be prepared to lose through voluntary redundancy, it would nevertheless be “prudent to consult with staff to establish whether there are any potential savings to me made from voluntary redundancy, and / or reductions in working hours at the current time”.

Other areas earmarked for further discussion include:

Increased use of shared workspaces;

Reduction in mileage rates for business use of personal vehicles;

Taking unpaid leave as part of annual leave entitlement;

Further reduction of subsistence payments;

Cuts in mobile phone spending.

The loss of two places overall on the authority’s countryside apprenticeships scheme may also be considered.

Firmer proposals on the budget will be made next month when the actual grant allocation from the Department fro Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is known.

The authority’s chief executive Andy Wilson said: “We don’t want to comment at the moment because we are still waiting for our settlement from Defra.”

Last month, the Yorkshire Post revealed the authority’s finances had been further hit by an unexpected six-figure bill to deal with delays blighting the proposed £1bn potash mine on the park.

The plans have been hit by a series of delays which has meant a revised planning application is now not expected to be submitted until the summer of next year due to growing concerns over the project’s impact on the landscape.

Mr Wilson said then that the total cost of dealing with the current planning application had reached £600,000 – although the bill was set to rise “by a very substantial figure”.

While £165,000 had been recouped from developers from York Potash through planning submission fees and a so-called planning performance agreement which helped pay for the authority’s consultants, Mr Wilson admitted that £225,000 set aside from reserves had all but run out.

“To have to find a very significant sum once again for a one-off expenditure is especially daunting and extremely tough decisions will have to be taken,” he said.