Great Yarmouth council faces a bleak financial future and tough years ahead thanks to “unfair” Government formula
17:34 05 February 2014
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2012
Cash-strapped Great Yarmouth has issued a bleak warning that it faces even harder years ahead with no guarantee that frontline council services can be protected.
The town has been left “in a hole that is going to swallow it” according to council leader Trevor Wainwright who said the authority had taken one of the biggest financial hits out of all 344 in the UK under an “unfair” Government funding formula.
It meant having to take another close look at an already worked-to-the-bone £13.3m revenue budget (down from £20m in 2010/2011)and recommend hikes in seafront parking and the scrapping of ward budgets.
Although it would probably scrape through the next financial year, officials were preparing to ask residents about their priorities ahead of a more radical cost-cutting exercise which would see non-statutory services like grounds maintenance or toilets come under the spotlight.
Mr Wainwright said dipping into reserves had helped to bridge a £2m shortfall but doing the same in the long term would not be an option and, if the cuts continued as predicted, the gap would be even bigger rising to £5m in five years.
However for the time being the Labour-controlled council had frozen council tax for the fourth year running, remaining at £146.48 per band D equivalent.
“There will be no job losses related to this budget and front line services should be maintained. The general resident of the borough will not notice any difference for now,” Mr Wainwright said.
“But it needs to be expressed that Yarmouth is taking one of the biggest hits in the UK. We feel that the funding formula is completely unfair to places like Great Yarmouth with pockets of deprivation and seasonal unemployment. Why make the people of Great Yarmouth suffer? It is down to the wire now.”
Brian Walker, deputy leader and cabinet member for resources, said the situation was “frightening,” adding: “This is reality, this is dire.” The council had already shed a third of its workforce, re-negotiated contracts and looked into sharing services wherever possible.
However the Labour group remained committed to its election pledge of not sharing a chief executive or senior staff, a move which would probably only save “a minimal” £50,000 and see decision-making taken out of the borough.
He said: “We feel it is important to have a chief executive in the borough. We do not want anyone in south Lincolnshire deciding what cuts should be made here.”
Although the council was confident its bid for a £1.9m efficiency support grant - which ensures no council suffers a reduction in spending power of more than 6.9pc - would be successful, it was money that had to spent with “one arm behind its back” as it had to go towards making savings and not general running costs.
To boost its income and bridge the shortfall the council proposes new parking spaces and a hike in Yarmouth long-stay seafront charges from £3 to £4 for up to four hours and £5 to £6 for more than four hours. There will also be increases for short stay generating an extra £100k overall, but a cut in Gorleston to boost the high street.
The proposals also include the abolition of ward budgets (saving £78k), cutting the budget for special repairs and maintenance (£264k) as well as savings on contracts and additional income generation.
In a statement the council said: “The budget for 2014/15 continues the work that the council has been doing to reduce its overall spending. With no sign of the reductions in central government income ending, the council will be faced with tough choices to make in the next few years. A revised medium term financial strategy will be discussed by the council in March with a view to consulting with the public over the summer.”
The council’s draft budget is due to be considered by the cabinet on February 12 and by full council on February 18.