Cutbacks to council services on the cards
Cutbacks in council services are being planned in North Norfolk to plug a gaping �827,000 hole in the district budget.The problem, fuelled by the tightening economic gloom and tumbling interest rates, sees the council taking a 'rigorous' look at its services, and having to make some hard decisions - but trying to minimise the impact on local people.
Cutbacks in council services are being planned in North Norfolk to plug a gaping �827,000 hole in the district budget.
The problem, fuelled by the tightening economic gloom and tumbling interest rates, sees the council taking a 'rigorous' look at its services, and having to make some hard decisions - but trying to minimise the impact on local people.
At the tip of the iceberg, the council has already proposed saving �25,000 by reducing grass verge mowing, and cutting water and groundskeeping subsidies for sports clubs to save another �4,500.
The council will be using �272,000 from its reserves to make up the shortfall. But cuts will have to be made as it finalises its �14.5m budget next month - and needs to save �380,000 on services to balance the books.
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Deputy chief executive Sheila Oxtoby said: 'We are having to make some really hard decisions and it has not been an easy process. We have had to take a rigorous look at our services and how we deliver them. We are trying to make the savings that will have the least impact on council tax payers and residents.'
No announcements have yet been made about which services will be facing cutbacks, and even the relatively small savings announced so far have consequences for local communities.
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Town and parish councils have been asked to pick up the cost of grass cutting or make their own arrangements, but for Cromer and Holt town councils the request has come too late - their budgets have already been finalised, with no money allocated for the extra work.
Cromer town council clerk Julie Chance said: 'There's nothing we can do about it this year. We will have to leave it to grow and look at it again in six months.'
This week, councillors are faced with the task of agreeing next year's council tax precept, although the figure will not be finalised until February.
Peter Moore, cabinet member for resources, said: 'We have had the problem of needing to find money this year that we weren't expecting to have to find, but I have no great difficulty now in setting a council tax that people will find acceptable.'
Predictions in October were for a �500,000 total budget deficit, but the drop in interest rates in recent months has meant a corresponding fall in the council's investment income.
The �340,000 shortfall in savings income next year is the largest part of the deficit, with smaller losses coming from reductions in planning, land charge and car parking income.
With interest rates at their lowest ever, and further falls expected, the council is predicting a return on their investments of just 3.9pc - more than 1pc down on this year's forecast.
And the council's decision to put security first after the collapse of Iceland's banking system has meant even lower interest rates.
A technical accountant for the council, Tony Brown, said: 'After Iceland, we moved everything to much more secure investments but with much lower interest rates. All our investments are now government guaranteed, but they don't earn as much.'
In addition, external funding supplied by the government has only risen by 1.1pc this year - far below the rate of inflation - meaning that the council must find other sources of income to pay its staff.
The council is also seeing a rise in some of its core services, with 27pc more people contacting the housing benefit service than at the same time last year, meaning it must redistribute its finances to cope with the increased demand.