Stark warning that council could have to make cuts without government aid

Andrew Jamieson, cabinet member for finance at Norfolk County Council. Pictured during the virtual c

Andrew Jamieson, cabinet member for finance at Norfolk County Council. Pictured during the virtual cabinet meeting. Pic: Dan Grimmer - Credit: Archant

A warning has been issued that Norfolk County Council could have to make further cuts, unless the government stumps up more money to cover the costs of coping with coronavirus.

The county council had already said it faces a £19m funding gap in this year’s budget, because it estimates responding to the crisis will cost the authority £62.7m - but has only had £43.6m from the government to cover that.

But, at the inaugural virtual meeting of the authority’s Conservative-controlled cabinet, councillors heard the longer-term picture could be even more concerning.

Conservative councillors said, on top of the £19m gap in this year’s budget they were facing the prospect of a £17m to £18m hole in the following year’s budget.

Andrew Jamieson, the council’s cabinet member for finance, warned that could mean more savings would have to be made - unless the government provides more cash.

Mr Jamieson said: “At present, the full implications for the council’s budget both this year and the year beyond remain to be confirmed.

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“But it’s highly likely that key income sources, including council tax collection and business rates will be under pressure, creating more upward pressure to our finance planning assumptions.

He said lost income, extra costs and the council being unable to enact money-saving changes had created a £19m funding hole this year and a potential £18m gap next year, without extra government money.

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He said a fair funding review into money for local councils looked to have been put on ice, while the long-delayed green paper on adult social care - which councils have been hoping will find a solution to the considerable costs that places on local councils - is unlikely to be published.

Mr Jamieson said the government would need to “hold good to its promise” to help local councils cover the costs or the future could be difficult.

He warned: “In the absence of increased government funding, we are likely to see much higher savings.”

Steve Morphew, leader of the opposition Labour group, said the relationship between the government and local councils needed to change to recognise the role authorities play.

But he said: “This is not just about the short term damage, but the fundamental damage which has been created over the years, which has put us in the position where it is getting quite hard to get the money right without a major change to the system.” Mr Morphew said that was a particular issue in the care sector, which he said needed “fundamental change”.

Liberal Democrat group leader Steffan Aquarone said a “massive proportion” of the budget overspend was because the council had been unable to deliver savings and spending cuts it had planned for this year.

And he said: “The money to restore the gap in the council’s finances can’t come from the people of Norfolk, and if it won’t come from the government, then it will have to come from working towards a rapid green economic recovery that increases rate collection.

“The question is, why won’t the leadership of the county council take the lead?”

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