A freeze in council tax, sweeping reductions in public spending and cash injections into priority areas form the basis of Northamptonshire County Council’s draft budget proposals published today.
The proposals would see the county face up to its biggest ever financial challenge and begin its work to save up to £136m in the next four years as a result of the huge reductions in government funding following this year’s Comprehensive Spending Review and a rapidly growing population requiring council services.
The budget, which includes proposals to cut spending by up to £68m in the next year alone, would see also Northamptonshire County Council’s council tax remain the lowest county bill in the country and would also usher in the beginning of an historic reform of public services.
Those areas people have highlighted as most important in the recent You Choose campaign have been safeguarded from the cuts with a massive £30m put aside to blitz the county’s crumbling roads and extra investment for the growing numbers of older people and the most vulnerable children needing services.
The council has also committed itself to extra investment to help promote jobs and prosperity in the county with an extra £2m to help attract new businesses, safeguard and create jobs in the county.
Meanwhile savings have been identified through a complete overhaul of services in the county aimed at helping communities, individuals and schools help themselves and rely less on the council for services and support where possible.
Leader of the council Cllr Jim Harker said: “Quite simply this budget setting process has been the biggest ever financial challenge faced by this council and frankly by this county.
“For the last year we have been completely open and transparent that public services in the county are at a tipping point. More and more people are in need of our services while our income from government is being dramatically reduced meaning we need to find savings of £136m in the next few years.
“This budget shows how we will do this. We will focus our investment on those areas which we have been told time and time again are most important to people. We are proposing a huge highways repair blitz, we are investing to help us cope with increased demand from our vulnerable adults and for the children and young people in our communities. We are committing ourselves to work alongside the private sector to create jobs and prosperity in the county.
“However there are also some very difficult proposals being put forward to help us tackle this huge financial challenge. We know a lot of what is being proposed is going to be very painful but we must work together as a county on this. We can no longer afford to keep services operating at the same level and in many cases we need communities and individuals to come forward and help us to ease the burden on the tax paying public.”
Among the cuts being proposed is a reduction in most subsidies for public transport routes and exploring how more communities could be helped to help themselves with transport. The council will also be looking at working with bus companies to see if they can look at some services and run them without tax-payer subsidies.
In addition a complete review of the library service is being proposed. This will look at the proposed closure of up to eight of those libraries which are mostly used by customers who also use other libraries. During consultation we will be working with the users of these libraries to work out how to lessen the impact and what improvements we can make to other libraries to help them.
Cabinet member for finance Bill Parker said: “As a county we are all in this challenge together. It is at times like this that we need to pull together to create a new way forward, new ways of working which cost less to the public purse.
“The proposals we have put forward today are certainly the toughest and most painful I have ever worked on. They are of course a direct result of the huge reduction in government funding we face as a result of the Comprehensive Spending Review. We are not making these proposals lightly. But tough decisions need to be made and I am confident that the proposals published today hit the right balance in helping us ease the burden of national debt, protect tax payers and the most vulnerable, and invest in those areas people have said are most important to them.”