Durham County Council is asking residents to have their say on proposals aimed at balancing its budget next year, including a range of potential savings.
Durham County Council has launched a consultation today for the public to give views on its proposed approach to try and meet a £37 million gap in its budget in the next financial year, and that is after a potential 2.99 per cent increase in its council tax.
This forecast budget deficit was outlined in a recent update on the council’s Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP), which set out a requirement to identify additional savings of more than £52 million between 2023/24 and 2026/27, with more than 70 per cent of this needing to be achieved in the next financial year.
These pressures reflect the unprecedented strain on council budgets due to significant increases in inflation and interest rates, which is impacting on energy costs and fuel prices in particular.
This is being compounded further by expected pay settlements; National Living Wage increases; the outcome of the national Fair Cost of Care exercise, which may impact on the cost of adult social care; and increased costs for Looked After Children and for Home to School Transport stemming from additional demand and complexity of need.
More worryingly, the forecasts do not factor in any potential funding reductions that may be passed on later this year, and the continued uncertainty about future financial settlements for local government is making it difficult for the authority to plan ahead with any confidence.
This has added challenges to the budget setting process, however the council has developed a proposed approach on how it will make some of the savings needed and use its reserves to buy some time to delay any reductions in service delivery and develop a more sustainable solution.
Cllr Richard Bell, Durham County Council’s deputy leader and Cabinet member for finance, said: “These budgetary pressures we are experiencing are not unique to us – many local authorities that, unlike us, don’t have reserves to fall back on in the short term could become unsustainable over the next year or so.
“We have written to the government, and will continue to lobby them, for additional financial support as we strive to balance budgets during these unprecedented times and try and alleviate some of the difficult choices we face.
“We appreciate that savings can have an impact on our residents and communities and we will continue to do what we can to protect frontline services, in particular those which support the most vulnerable, as much as possible.
“The position we find ourselves in, however, will mean that unless there is substantial additional government grant funding coming our way then we will face some very difficult decisions in seeking to balance our budgets in 2024/25 and I’m afraid that front line service delivery will inevitably be impacted in that scenario.
“The strategy we are implementing for next year will only buy us some time to work through these issues and delay these more impactful savings coming in.”
Residents can take part in the four-week consultation on the council’s strategy by completing an online survey.
There is also the option for residents to attend their local Area Action Partnership (AAP) board meeting to find out more and fill in the survey.
Alternatively, people can pick up a physical copy at one of the county’s libraries or Customer Access Points.
The consultation will close for comments on Tuesday 22 November, however feedback from any AAP meetings held after this date will still be gathered.
To complete the survey online, or to book a place at one of the AAP meetings, visit www.durham.gov.uk/consultation