BUDGET cuts totaling £23.6m were agreed by Northumberland County Council yesterday – with a warning more “traumatic” savings are yet to come.
It sanctioned the latest cuts package in approving its budget for 2013/14 – having already made more than £100m in savings since the unitary authority was formed in 2009.
Councillors also agreed to freeze the authority’s share of council tax for the third consecutive year, although people will see their bills go up in April because of increases by Northumbria Police and town and parish councils.
This year’s £466m budget includes cuts of £7.9m in adult services and housing, £3.7m in children’s services, £5.8m in finance and £2.9m in local services. It was supported yesterday by Liberal Democrat, Labour and independent councillors, but the Conservative group abstained – saying it could not support what it described as cuts in spending on roads.
It was the final budget proposed by the Lib Dem administration at County Hall before May’s elections, which will change the political make-up of the authority.
Andrew Tebbutt, executive member for corporate resources, said this year’s £23.6m worth of savings was £5.8m more than had been predicted 12 months ago.
He said adult social care and housing were bearing the brunt of the cuts but this would be mainly achieved through changes in commissioning and would not impact seriously on service delivery.
The financial challenges facing the council over the next four years were likely to be even greater than those of the last four. He said “daunting” savings targets had been set this year but the targets would be “traumatic” for the following two years.
Coun Tebbutt also said delivering local services remained a problem area for the council because of major backlogs in highways and property maintenance work, the effects of bad weather and floods, and the ongoing problem of potholed roads.
“We will be putting more Tarmac down on our roads this year than last,” he said.
He added £11m in funding was being sought from the Government to repair landslips at Rothbury and Stocksfield – and the council would take up to £6m from its reserves, if necessary, over the next two years to ensure roads maintenance problems were tackled.
Conservative group leader Peter Jackson described the four years of the Lib Dem administration as a wasted opportunity. He said some of the county’s roads are at “crisis point” and the budget had been reducing for years in real terms.
“Our C and unclassified roads are in an absolutely appalling state, and there is a clear need for major investment in repairs,” he added.