A body charged with looking after 700 scheduled monuments, 3,000 listed buildings, the largest expanse of heather moorland in England and Wales and 26 miles of coastline has set its largest budget, despite its government grant dwindling to less than the income of an average secondary school.
Members of the North York Moors National Park Authority have agreed to set a plan to use £12m of resources from an expected Defra grant of £4.5m, largely by having raised grants and attracting an army of volunteers.
The budget marks the latest high in a sea change for the authority since government grant cuts began to bite in 2010. In 2011/12, while the Defra grant was £5.1m, the authority’s total expenditure stood at £7.1m.
A full meeting of the authority heard the budget was only possible as some of the core funded services previously supported by permanent staff had been axed.
The authority’s deputy chairman, Malcolm Bowes, a former deputy chief executive at the North East Assembly described the £12m budget compared to the £4.5m grant it received as “really ambitious”.
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As external grants require support from rangers and specialists to implement them and volunteers need organisation and health and safety cover even if they lead their own tasks, more income comes at a cost for the authority.
Mr Bowes said: “We are still on the edge. We are at the maximum amount we can lever in given the core budget that we get.”
Members were told in the absence of guidance from the government, it was basing its budget on assumptions that officers’ pay would rise by two per cent and its Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs grant increases by 1.7 per cent.
The meeting heard in the event of the grant not increasing and the pay award being three per cent, the authority would be left having to find £109,470 and there would be a “significant challenge” in covering the cost.
Officers report warned: “If decisions were imposed at a very late stage, further cuts in core discretionary activities would be inevitable.
“The later the notification of the grant, the fewer uncommitted options would be available to address an increased deficit in the short term.”
The authority’s chairman, Jim Bailey, said: “I think it’s good that we are stretching ourselves, but fortunately we have enough optional things in the budget to roll back on some if we really had to.”