With the autumn budget only a few days away North Yorkshire County Council is calling on the Chancellor to give long-term fairer funding to large rural counties like North Yorkshire.
The council’s leaders warn that with the prospect of austerity continuing through to 2022, the funding handicap faced by rural areas is exacerbating the pressure on services.
People in North Yorkshire pay almost twice as much council tax in relative terms as those in urban and London boroughs like Westminster and Camden and receive less Government funding, yet the costs tend to be higher. The council will therefore continue to push for a fairer government funding deal particularly given the higher numbers of older people; and the higher costs of delivering services in a large rural county with sparse populations.
By April 2019 the council is due to receive no core government funding whereas some councils such as those in London will continue to receive significant levels of government funding. The Government awarded some welcome transitional relief in the last budget for rural authorities to offset the downward trend in grant income but that is due to run out this year. That is why the county council is backing the government’s review of council funding and looking for a fairer deal for rural counties.
“We are a high performing, low spending council praised for having an innovative can-do culture,” said County Councillor Carl Les, North Yorkshire’s Leader, “ but we are concerned that overall the needs of rural areas are given low priority. We continue to protect the frontline and we are developing as an ambitious and commercial council that can generate its own income. But without fairer long-term funding we face very hard choices ahead”.
The longer term position therefore remains largely unchanged with the county council having to save a further £43m from its revenue budget by 2019/20. The council has plans for £33m and a savings gap of £10m remains before news of the next funding settlement is made. This gives a total of £169.4m saved over the decade - which represents a reduction of 34 per cent in the council’s spending power.
At the same time, the county council is seeking to address important longer term needs and is therefore using one-off money for important projects such as the A59 realignment at Kex Gill between Harrogate and Skipton; coastal erosion projects in Scarborough and Whitby; replacing streetlight bulbs with more efficient LEDs; and delivering superfast broadband across as much of the county as possible. These initiatives alone involve over £30m of one-off investment.
The details of the county council’s funding settlement from Government are expected just a few weeks after the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Budget Statement on 22 November and councillors will meet to consider the council’s proposed budget on 21 February 2018. North Yorkshire’s budget consultation has now been launched online. “We have some very tough decisions ahead of us and we want to hear people’s views on spending priorities,” said Cllr Les.