Austerity-era cuts have led to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority becoming better at sourcing income beyond its government grant, a senior park official said.
New papers report that an average of £2.2m has been secured by the park authority in each of the last three years, a 47 per cent increase on the £1.5m in each years between 2012 and 2015.
This income has accounted for, on average, a third of the park’s budget for the last three years, up from a quarter in previous years.
But in a budget report to a full meeting of the authority, members were warned that income aside from government funding is increasingly important to the national park because a rising proportion of its Whitehall grant is used to meet staff costs.
Some 76 per cent of the park’s grant from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) covers staff costs alone, up from 70 per cent, and this is projected to rise further to 76.6 per cent.
What is left of the park’s Defra grant, together with other sources of funding, pays for work to be done to conserve, protect and enhance the park’s environment and access for visitors.
At yesterday’s meeting in Bainbridge, members signed off just over £7m in gross expenditure for the year ahead, an increase of £1.2m compared to 2014/15.
In his report, Richard Burnett, the park authority’s treasurer, said: “This reflects the increase in Defra grant as a result of the boundary extension and the success of efforts to increase other sources of funding.
“The latter is a significant achievement and has allowed the Authority to continue to deliver high quality programmes and develop some bold new projects.”
The increasing staff costs as a proportion of the park’s government grant is affordable, Mr Burnett reports, even though it does increase the proportion of its grant that is “locked up” in staff costs and so cannot be adjusted quickly. It also further reduces the amount of Defra grant available to support work programmes and increases reliance on income from other sources, he said.
For the next 12 months, the park has been allocated £5.14m from Defra and expects to net another £2.01m in other funds, including bank interest and income from planning fees, retail profits, car parking income and renewable energy schemes.
After the budget was approved, Mr Burnett told The Yorkshire Post: “The Authority is as reliant as ever on the Defra grant in the sense that it covers most staff salaries, overheads and other operating costs. However, since the cuts, the Authority has got much better at generating income from external sources, making possible for instance the new Swale Trail family mountain bike route and the Every Barn Tells A Story project.”
Members at yesterday’s meeting also endorsed a submission to Defra calling for an extension of up to three years of a pilot scheme that sees 19 farmers in Wensleydale paid for the quality of their results in producing either species-rich meadows or habitats for breeding wader birds such as curlew, snipe, lapwing and redshank. The two-year scheme is due to end in September.
Authority chairman Carl Lis said: “This approach could provide the starting template for the future of upland farm support after Britain leaves the EU, but it needs to be tested further now.”