Durham council chiefs slam government over funding 'uncertainty'

Top councillors have criticised the government for “uncertainty” around future funding, as Durham County Council prepares to make millions of pounds of cuts.

Thursday, 11th July 2019, 15:46 pm
Updated Friday, 12th July 2019, 15:54 pm
County Hall, the headquarters of Durham County Council.

According to a report prepared for the cabinet on July 10, the council is facing a £6.4million shortfall to balance the budget next year.

And over the next four years, the authority is bracing itself for extra savings of £34.2million.

While council bosses say they will fight to maintain front-line services for as long as possible, they have previously said the position is unsustainable.

And delays around government grant funding schemes, they add, is making it “almost impossible” for local authorities to plan ahead.

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Deputy leader on the county council, Coun Alan Napier, told the meeting the council faces “absolute uncertainty” around funding going forward.

“The Fair Funding Review is highly unlikely to report in time to be implemented for 2020,” he said.

“We have no idea what the government’s plans are for the so-called one-off funding we will receive for social care and winter pressures and there is no information on our grants or government’s plans for council tax.”

He said Government and parliament are “paralysed through Brexit” and the Fair Funding Review should have concluded by now.

He added: “It’s difficult enough trying to set budgets and control expenditure in local government but it’s almost impossible when we don’t know what our income will be.”

The meeting heard the situation was not unique to Durham, with several council leaders calling for answers on the Shared Prosperity Fund – a pot set to replace EU structural investment funding after Brexit.

With the final figure set to be announced in December, local authorities may have limited time to consult with the public on spending plans.

Leader of Durham County Council, Coun Simon Henig, said: “It’s going to leave a number of difficult situations time frame wise before we have to set our budgets.

“This is true not just for us but all local authorities across the country, it’s really not an acceptable position to be in.

“The council has to continue its planning and prepare a medium term financial plan as we have done since the start of austerity.”