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Coming next - a 4pc rise in your council tax bill

PUBLISHED: 15:03 25 September 2020 | UPDATED: 15:51 25 September 2020

Norfolk County Council at County Hall in Norwich

Norfolk County Council at County Hall in Norwich

Archant

Norfolk County Council is set to increase council tax payments by 4pc and make £26m in spending cuts in its “toughest budget so far” amid the rising costs of coronavirus.

Andrew Jamieson, cabinet member for finance at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council.Andrew Jamieson, cabinet member for finance at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

The council has unveiled its first set of plans for next year’s budget and warned that, without additional funding from central government, it could be forced to make further savings.

In September, the council said it faced a £45m budget gap - which it now said it had brought down to £15m by changes to the way it provided services, and charging people higher rates of council tax.

Andrew Jamieson, the council’s cabinet member for finance, said: “This is the toughest budget the council has faced so far.

“The triple whammy of rising budget pressures, uncertainty over government funding and the costs of tackling Covid-19 have created a unique challenge.”

Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at Norfolk Counnty Council. Pic: ArchantSteve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at Norfolk Counnty Council. Pic: Archant

Financial forecasts published by the authority on Friday describe the 2021-22 budget as “being developed in a climate of almost unprecedented risk and uncertainty”.

READ MORE: Anger over £2.7m revamp of council’s meeting rooms as £130m shortfall puts services at risk

The impact of the pandemic has meant that expected government funding announcements for local councils have been delayed.

And the cost of responding to the crisis has prevented the council from making £17.3m of the savings it expected this year.

Independent Norfolk County Council group leader Sandra Squire. Pic: Norfolk Independent Group.Independent Norfolk County Council group leader Sandra Squire. Pic: Norfolk Independent Group.

Mr Jamieson said the council wanted to make additional savings of £18m across adult social care, as well as £5m savings from the children’s services budget.

The authority plans to reduce the amount it spends on providing community and environmental services by £7m, and cut its strategy, governance, finance and commercial services bill by a combined total of £6m.

Council tax is set to rise by 1.99pc, and the council hopes to increase the adult social care precept - the amount it can charge for providing this service - by 2pc.

Mr Jamieson added: “We’ve covered some £30m of our £45.4m gap and tried, wherever possible, to cut running costs and reduce the impact on frontline services.

Steffan Aquarone, Liberal Democrat group leader at Norfolk County Council. Picture: Alex BroadwaySteffan Aquarone, Liberal Democrat group leader at Norfolk County Council. Picture: Alex Broadway

READ MORE: More than £1m will be taken from council reserves to cope with coronavirus costs

“The aim of these proposals is to protect services that support the most vulnerable whilst ensuring that the council becomes more financially resilient and sustainable for the future.

“But, without additional Government support and certainty over our biggest and costliest service - adult social care - we face further tough decisions later this year.

“We are continuing to speak with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, lobbying with key groups like the LGA and County Councils Network and working alongside our MPs for a fair and sustainable settlement for local government.”

The current total of net new savings proposed is £26m, plus £8.5m from increasing the ASC precept.

Labour group leader Steve Morphew hit out at the plans and said: “These budget proposals are half-baked, lack decency and credibility. It’s a shoddy shambles. It lets Norfolk down at every turn.

“Having repeatedly failed to get the resources Norfolk needs to look after our residents, this week they lined the pockets of councillors and prioritised County Hall car parking.

“Now they are telling us we have a serious problem?

READ MORE: Disabled people and their families issue warnings over impact of care cuts on Norfolk’s most vulnerable

“The government has left this council in a mess, compounded by Covid-19. But they can’t just hide behind the virus and incompetence of their own government. It is weak, backwards-looking and not fit for purpose.”

Liberal Democrat leader Steffan Aquarone said: “The Conservative administration was already well off course in its attempts to meet its savings targets long before coronavirus struck. Since then, central government has compensated local councils for the cost of the pandemic, and yet the budget gap in Norfolk continues to grow.”

He added: “It baffles me that the Tories on Norfolk County Council have had to resort to making a public call on government to provide the funding needed for public services. Isn’t their party supposed to be in charge at Westminster?

“Norfolk is full of untapped potential and this council should be leading on a bold 21st-century economic strategy that can unleash this potential and bring jobs and prosperity to all.”

Independent group leader Sandra Squire said: “It’s difficult times and it wasn’t ever going to be a great budget, even without Covid-19. It’s a huge amount of money - it’s services and people’s jobs and everyone is going to be affected.”

The plans will be discussed by cabinet on Monday, October 5.

READ MORE: People in Norfolk set to pay more council tax as County Hall makes £38m savings


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