Council tax freeze and ‘stay of execution’ for cuts - Norfolk County Council proposed budget revealed

A council tax freeze is on the cards if the administration at Norfolk County Council gets its budget

A council tax freeze is on the cards if the administration at Norfolk County Council gets its budget agreed. - Credit: Archant

Young people facing the prospect of increased fares to get to and from school and college could be given a reprieve, after council leaders revealed plans to pull back from a controversial cut.

The Labour/Liberal Democrat administration at Norfolk County Council have announced the authority's proposed budget for next year - and confirmed council tax will not rise if the proposals go through.

While their £308.4m revenue budget would still see wide-ranging cuts, a number of the most contentious proposals in the Putting People First consultation on how to partially plug a £189m funding gap. have been given what council leader George Nobbs described as 'a stay of execution'.

One is the proposal to cut the transport subsidy for students aged 16 to 19, which would have meant bus fare hikes for young people.

That proposal would have saved £1m, but the council is instead delaying it for a year and putting in £1m so there are no changes in 2014/15.

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Another pull back is on personal budgets. Changes were proposed to save £12m over three years and would have meant less money would be available for wellbeing activities.

But the proposal now is to mitigate those changes by making £3m available to supported people through the proposed changes.

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Some £3m, which the administration has already committed to children's services, is also included in the budget to help the troubled department, which has endured criticism from Ofsted.

The money to head off the cuts which had been proposed, the council says, has been found through a review of all council budgets and some additional income from council tax.

However, almost £60m of cuts will still be made in 2014/15, including reducing maintenance on the county's roads by £1m cutting the subsidy for the Coasthopper bus and cutting library staff.

The administration had warned the uncertainty over the King's Lynn incinerator, with communities secretary Eric Pickles yet to announce whether the plant has been granted planning permission, could take away 'wiggle room' to stave off cuts.

Mr Nobbs said: 'These cuts are neither optional nor of our own making. Central government has forced us into this position by making savage cuts in the level of rate support grant.

'We have looked at everything very carefully and we were not prepared to allow the people of Norfolk to suffer the very worst of the cuts simply because Mr Pickles was unable or unwilling to reach a decision on The Willows.

'The public has identified the three areas where they wished us to do more, if we could, and we have listened to them and responded.

'It is a principled decision by all the cabinet not to implement the most severe cuts when it may well be that when Mr Pickles does make up his mind, we find there is no need to do so.'

The administration says a risk assessment of the possible failure of The Willows planning application had been carried out and £19m (around 73pc of the sum which might have to be paid in compensation to Cory Wheelabrator) was being set aside in the budget.

But they said at least £7m, and possibly more, will have to be found should the application be turned down, which council leader Mr Nobbs had warned could yet lead to more cuts.

The county council cabinet will consider proposals for 2014-15 at a meeting next Monday before the county council's full budget debate on February 17.

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