Council out to cut budget by £17m

NORTH Tyneside Council is looking to slash its budget by £17m next financial year.

That saving will cut even deeper than the £16m cost-cutting package pushed through by the authority this year but puts it on course to meet its target of hacking back its budget by almost £50m over four years.

No jobs cuts further to the 300 announced ahead of the current year’s budget have been announced, but the council is expecting to redeploy more staff into joint operations with private-sector companies.

Residents can expect to see changes to the services they get as the authority has less and less money to spend, but borough mayor Linda Arkley has pledged to continue to support the growth of the borough and strive to create new job opportunities.

Mrs Arkley said: “As a result of the changes to local authority funding, our financial environment is undergoing a radical change over the next three years, with the emphasis for financial planning now shifting more towards savings and efficiencies, close control of costs, a focus on our priorities and new ways of working.

“To address these challenges, the council must drive forward in a new direction with a clear vision and priorities.

“We cannot achieve this level of savings without fundamentally changing what we do and how we do it.”

A host of amendments to services were put forward at Monday’s full cabinet meeting, and over the next few months, the council will take into consideration any objections raised by councillors and points made during a public consultation exercise.

The council is looking to continue its move away from directly delivering services to the public and instead commissioning services to be delivered by third parties or working with private-sector partners and neighbouring councils to get things done.

Increased fees and charges for various services are among the proposals put forward.

The council tax will not be increased next year, however.

As previously reported in the News Guardian, the council has visited other local authorities to see first hand new methods of working and it will be aiming to copy some of those.

Mrs Arkley added: “The approach is an ambitious one, but it is one that will set a new direction for the council, empower local people, widen horizons and create opportunities.

“It’s an approach embedded in growth, with targeted plans to deliver savings in ways that will secure the longer-term future for services and better outcomes for residents.

“Inevitably, this has involved some difficult choices.

“When we find ourselves in a position, because of the global recession, of having to find savings of £47.5 million over four years, the decisions are hard – very hard indeed.

“This is not about making choices that tinker at the edges of the budget. These are choices that we have considered thoroughly to weigh up every option available.

“This is about making very, very difficult decisions.

“We are in the same position as our residents. We need to use our money wisely, prioritise our spending and accept that there are some things we cannot afford to deliver in the same way.

“Making no big decisions is not an option.

“They are the decisions that we consider are the fairest to share the impact of the global recession around the borough.

“It’s about admitting that we will need to deliver services differently to meet the financial demands, but to do that in a way that ensures we can continue to grow this borough and support investment and job creation.

“It means accepting that, while we have previously aimed at the highest gold-standard services, in some instances we might have to do less.”

Setting up a community-based trust incorporating culture and leisure services is being explored, along with a ten year capital plan totalling £327m, including using external funding to set up new joint service centres in North Shields, Wallsend and Whitley Bay.

A £50,000 reduction in the council’s Big Society investment fund and closing North Shields tourist information centre are among the ways of saving money planned by the council.