District councils count the cost of budget cuts

Council leader warns of more cuts to come

NORTH Devon Council will have to make savings in the region of �1.1million in the light of the Government’s spending plans for English councils, unveiled this week.

The council’s grant will be slashed to �6.5million, a cut of 14.8 per cent. In 2012/13 the settlement will be reduced by a further 11.5 per cent, or �800,000.

Council leader Des Brailey told the Gazette the deficit was around �300,000 more than expected, but was “manageable”.

He described North Devon’s settlement as “middle of the road” compared to other councils across the country but warned that the Government had “front-loaded” the cuts and that more could be on the way above and beyond those originally announced.

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“We were told that the settlement would be reduced by 28 per cent over four years, but have now learned that our budget will be cut by 25 per cent over the first two,” he said.

“I’m not na�ve enough to believe that they won’t reduce the grant by more than three per cent in years three and four.

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“We’ve been caught quite hard and I don’t expect it to end there but we need to ensure we are robust enough to deal with whatever comes.”

Cllr Brailey said the council was “not panicking” and that the Executive would be meeting behind closed doors on Tuesday to discuss where savings could be made.

“We are not looking to cut front-line services but there will be some changes throughout the council that will have some effect,” he said.

“We think we can manage this; now we know the Government settlement, we can thrash around a few ideas and see where we need to make savings.

“We have one or two ideas already but will know more after Tuesday’s meeting.”

Cllr Brailey said he had already given an undertaking to staff that the council was “not looking at redundancies at this time”.

“I will do all in my power to make sure we don’t go for wholesale redundancies, however, as already stated, we will lose 50 posts through natural wastage over the next four years.

“We are talking about people’s livelihoods and I am keen to protect those people.”

Last month, the council agreed to scrap its company car scheme and offer employees losing a car a one-off �5,000 cash payment.

The move will cost the council �300,000 next year but will save the authority �60,000 in 2012/13 and save �180,000 a year thereafter.

The money to fund next year’s allowance scheme is likely to come from the council’s contingency fund, which currently stands at �1.7million.

Meanwhile, Torridge District Council learned its settlement will be cut by around �1million, a reduction of 13.8 per cent. The authority’s grant will be reduced by a further 10.5 per cent in 2012/13.

Leader James Morrish said Monday’s announcement was slightly worse than it had anticipated but officers were currently analysing the figures in detail.

He said: “Since last summer we have been working on a list of options for members to achieve a balanced budget next year and at an informal full council meeting on Wednesday, members looked at these options.

“Further scrutiny of budget proposals will take place in January with a final decision to made by the council on February 21.

“Although our deficit is approximately �1m, we have already achieved savings of half this amount and have already been looking at medium to long term options in reductions in expenditure.

“All of the options tabled have been subjected to an Equality Impact Assessment so that no one sector will be adversely affected.”

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