Council says difficult decisions have been made but cuts are ‘a fact of life’

North Devon Council has balanced the books for the financial year ahead – but grant funding to voluntary organisations has been cut by more than £90,000 and car parking charges now look almost certain to rise.

Cuts of nearly £33,000 to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau; Go North Devon; North Devon Voluntary Services; South Molton Swimming Pool; North Devon Biosphere; Exeter Area Rail Partnership; and Community Councillor Grants were met with opposition at last night’s (Wednesday) full council meeting.

A raft of amendments were tabled by the council’s opposition leader Brian Greenslade but only revisions to safeguard funding for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) and Community Councillor Grants were backed by councillors.

The council has also cut its grant to North Devon Theatres’ Trust by £52,500, and to North Devon+ by £22,930.

The 15 per cent reductions are in line with the 15 per cent cut in the council’s own funding from central government.

Liberal Democrat councillor Ian Roome said he regularly referred constituents to the CAB and was among those who opposed the cuts to the organisation.

“It’s third sector bodies like the CAB that help soothe the pressures we’re facing in the public sector,” he said.

But Conservative councillor Dick Jones said: “We all support voluntary groups but we took a hit of 15 per cent funding and there comes a time when we have to pass on the reduction to everyone else.

“No one wanted to make these cuts – and it’s an insult to suggest anyone here likes what we have had to do; in reality it’s very far from the truth.”

The £11.9million budget for 2016/17 was eventually passed by a majority of 27 to nine, with one abstention.

A proposed 1.99 per cent council tax increase was passed unanimously at the same meeting.

Last ditch efforts by Mr Greenslade to block budgeted car park revenue increases by £230,000 were also quashed, as was a move to increase Disabled Facility Grants by £78,000, rather than reduce them by £28,000.

Mr Greenslade’s proposal to fund his package of amendments with staff redundancies, an increase in service plans savings, and by removing two members of the executive committee was deemed ‘not robust’ by chief finance officer Jon Triggs.

Mr Greenslade, a qualified accountant, said he did not agree with the officer’s opinion and pressed his amendment to the vote, which was rejected by councillors.

Speaking to the Gazette after the meeting, council leader Des Brailey said: “I’m very pleased – officers have done a tremendous job and working with the executive they have achieved a balanced budget.

“We understand that this is a very difficult period of time and yes we’ve had to make some difficult decisions.

“No one likes putting charges up but clearly we have to maintain services and look to the future.”

Mr Brailey said that due to further reductions in government grants, the council would be £400,000 in the red for 2018/19.

“This is a huge deficit for a small organisation like ours and we have to ask how do we fund that gap?

“We have put £250,000 new homes bonus and the additional £230,000 rural settlement grant in to reserves.

“We’ve got some difficult times ahead but we’ll rise to the challenge.”