Cuts hit Durham County Council as another £100m needed

Durham County Council leader Simon Henig has warned over the impact budget cuts will have on council services

Simon Henig says the North East needs new powers to help it keep pace with other areas of the country
Durham Council leader Simon Henig

More jobs will have to go at Durham County Council as civic centre chiefs look again at one of the region’s biggest series of budget cuts.

Over six years Durham will lose some £224m, and the latest plan to find £100m is seeing the council prepare for further service cut backs.

Council leader Simon Henig said the council has already lost more than £113m, and is well into current plans set to make some 2,000 staff redundant by the next financial year.

But even that total is now likely to be passed as the council look to the next three years of cuts.

After a lengthy consultation process in which the public was asked to use a Monopoly board-style game to identify priorities, the council is now ready to go with further cuts to museums, arts, some library support services and grass cutting.

Mr Henig said: “We are looking at the arts, but no one will see their entire contribution cut. We have a number of facilities across the county, the museum, the theatre and so on, but no one will lose out completely. It could lead to changes such as opening hours, but trying to avoid being too dramatic in these areas.”

Other savings confirmed include a reduction in school crossing staff and the switching off or dimming down of some street lights.

The leader said that, of the new savings identified, many would be met by back office cuts and efficiencies. “But you cannot keep cutting this,” Mr Henig said, “Sooner or later all you are left with is front line services to cut.”

He added: “Next year is when we will have to make some incredibly difficult choices about our services. The Government can’t just keep cutting this. You can’t look for efficiencies each year, they run out and then it is front line that goes. All councils will reach this point. We have been in a better position than some as we are the biggest council in the North East and have been able to find more savings, but we will reach that point next year where it is our front line that has to suffer. It’s inevitable.

“What we have asked for from the Government is fairness, for the North East to face the same reduction as all councils, that doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

“But we have instead seen councils in the South East and Home Counties having increases in spending powers, on the Government’s own figures.

“If we had the same reduction all round there would still have to be cuts but at least it would be fair across the country.”

Council treasurer Don McLure set out the jobs risk of the Government not listening to those concerns.

He said: “The forecast we did on the first plan said 1,950 job losses, and that is likely to be the same as imagined over four years. That takes us up to 2015. There is another £100m to come, we need to look at them in more detail, but we are predominantly an employer, 70% of our budget is staffing we will have to look at that again.”

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