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Future of public services in doubt as East Anglian councils face further multi-million pound cuts

PUBLISHED: 11:03 20 December 2012

Communities secretary Eric Pickles

Communities secretary Eric Pickles

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2011

The future of public services across the region are in doubt as the government’s latest multi-million pound spending cuts confirmed councils’ worst fears.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles yesterday revealed government settlements and grants to fund council services in 2013/14, as part of his attempts to change how local authorities pay for their services.

Norfolk County Council expects it will need to make £37m of cuts from April. This is on top of the £105m the authority has already saved since 2010, which has included axeing youth services and placed day care centres under threat.

Great Yarmouth Borough Council also looks set to be the hardest hit authority in the country when the coalition government’s transition fund, to help it adapt to the changes, is sliced by around 30pc next year.

It has already predicted cuts of £10m in the next three years.

Elsewhere, South Norfolk District Council insisted it anticipates “no cuts next year”.

At North Norfolk District Council (NNDC), leader Tom FitzPatrick, said: “It looks like the spending review for 2014/15 will reveal much greater cuts, which will pose some serious questions regarding how this and other local authorities conduct their business.

“NNDC runs a tight financial ship, has no debts and is already developing areas that could raise significant income, but with further spending cuts anticipated we are planning to consult with the people of north Norfolk in the spring as to where they would like the council to concentrate its future efforts and its budget.”

It was a day of number-crunching for councils as the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) released several figures on future spending.

This included “spending power” data, which includes grants from central government, council tax and bonuses for building new houses.

The government’s intention is to encourage authorities to raise more money rather than receiving a bigger, one-off grant from Whitehall.

English councils are said to spend £114.5bn next year, but their “spending power” will decrease by an average of 1.7pc, with Yarmouth’s noted as dropping by 19.3pc in 2013/14 and Breckland’s by 3pc.

Norfolk and Waveney councils are expected to see their “spending power” decrease by more than £30m in 2014/15, with Norfolk County Council accounting for £24m. Suffolk County Council is expected to see this figure dip by £17m in the same period.

West Norfolk’s spending power is said to increase by 1.1pc next year but fall by 5pc, or £1m, in 2014/15, while South Norfolk’s is expected to increase by 2.5pc next year and 0.4pc in 2014/15.

Council officials across the region will today continue poring over the details to work out the immediate consequences for 2013/14, and predicted heavier losses in 2014/15.

What they have yet to fully establish is exactly how much money they will lose from the government grant.

A computer-glitch hampered this work yesterday as councils found it difficult to view government documents containing the information.

Norfolk County Council recently announced plans to save £125m from 2014/15 and wants to be less reliant on government cash and find more ways of generating income.

Harry Humphrey, cabinet member for finance, said yesterday: “We know that, following the autumn statement, the authority faces a further two per cent reduction in funding from 2014/15, on top of the savings already planned.

“This reduction is in spite of ever-rising demand for many of our services - particularly for adult social care.

“There is a lot of detail in the announcement we have yet to get to the bottom of, but we know enough now to see that it validates entirely the need for the council to fundamentally review its operations.”

At Waveney District Council, leader Colin Law said the council had worked “hard to maintain the highest standards of service” in challenging financial conditions.

He said of yesterday’s settlement announcement: “This is a disappointing blow to us and our community.

“We know there is no quick fix in today’s economic situation and it is clear we will need to work even harder and even smarter to ensure the people and business in Waveney get the services they need and deserve.”

The DCLG says local authorities will locally raise 70pc of the money available to spend, compared to 56pc under the previous grant system.

Councils also have extra responsibilities, including handing out council tax benefit albeit with an average of 10pc less cash from the government.

Communities secretary Mr Pickles said: “Councils that put their thinking caps on now can save precious taxpayer pennies next year by cutting out waste and transforming frontline services that vulnerable people rely on.”

The timing of Mr Pickles’ announcement was criticised as giving councils little time to develop budgets.

And shadow communities and local government secretary Hilary Benn said the “unfair cuts” meant the loss of “libraries, sports centres, Sure Start centres, places at women’s refuges”.

Norwich City Council plans to discuss the changes with Brandon Lewis, local government minister and Yarmouth MP, during a 10am call with other local authorities today.

Alan Waters, cabinet member for finance, said: “It’s all bad for local government. But whether it’s relatively less bad or relatively more bad, it seems to be urban areas with deprivation that get hit the hardest.”

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