Durham County Council prepares for further budget cuts

MORE than £50m will be wiped off Durham County Council’s budget as it prepares for further cuts.

An aerial view of Durham
An aerial view of Durham

MORE than £50m will be wiped off Durham County Council’s budget as it prepares for further cuts.

Council bosses have warned that by 2018 they are likely to have seen eight years of cuts, axing almost 40% of their spending.

The latest council budget brings the spending reductions up to £90m, with another £50m still to be identified. Already the council has shed around 1,000 of the 1,600 job losses identified, some of them through compulsory redundancy, and the latest cuts package will see the prospect of further posts being closed.

Council leaders have said that, despite heading towards an overall cuts figure of £200m, they will still seek to freeze council tax this year.

In the autumn, the authority will enter into another round of consultation on cuts, asking people to rate services in terms of importance.

Council leader Simon Henig said: “The challenge is going to be far greater this time. We have already made the easiest and not-so-easy savings. To make another £50m will be very difficult.”

The council managed to prevent adult social care and road maintenance being hit with large cuts as a result of its last consultation, but Coun Henig said he was unable to say if any area will be spared in the next round.

“We are starting to approach now the 40% reduction mark, that is an enormous figure. Just like if that amount were to be taken from a firm in the private sector, it radically changes what you can do.”

Asked if he thought the economic outlook might improve before 2018, the Labour council leader said: “So far, the cuts just keep going up. It would be naive to think something will just turn up – this is not going to get better. We are in a situation in which the Government cuts and cuts to a point which is increasingly unsustainable but, when it doesn’t like how that looks, when people lose out, it just says blame your council, it’s their decision.

“We are losing 40%, but you think the Government is safeguarding some services and just cutting away here.

“But, as the Newcastle Council information on how the cuts are distributed shows, not all councils are being treated fairly.

“We face a situation where some councils, especially in the South, are able to carry on as they were before while, in some parts of the country, councils can barely maintain the level of public service they are expected to.”

Earlier this year, Newcastle City Council published “heat maps” showing how council cuts were affecting different areas of the country, with the worst affected being predominantly in the North and in Labour-supporting areas.

The maps showed that Durham was looking at losses of £160 per person, while some areas in the South were only losing £30 per head.

South Tyneside was the worst affected in the region at £262 per person, followed by Sunderland at £220, Newcastle £218 and Gateshead £205. Already, Durham County Council has cut money from libraries, tourist information and bin collections, as well as school music services, museums and large-scale back office cuts.

The latest spending reductions will be discussed at a cabinet meeting on February 6.


David Whetstone
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