March 8 2014 Latest news:
Monday, December 2, 2013
Frontline services in Norfolk are at “serious risk” as the county council seeks to bring forward £15m of savings for a contingency fund to foot the bill if planning permission for the controversial King’s Lynn incinerator is refused.
Norfolk County Council faces having to pay £26m if the proposed plant at Saddlebow is not given permission by communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles, and agreed last month to create a contingency fund to cover that cost by April 2015.
The council’s cabinet heard that means finding £11.2m in savings by the end of this financial year and a further £15m in 2014-15 through the council’s Putting People First consultation – taking the total savings needed in that year from £66.5m to £81.5m.
Council leader George Nobbs said the fund was necessary so the authority was prepared for the possibility of planning permission refusal, with a decision expected by mid-January.
“This way, if the worst comes to the worst, we have got the money.
“There never were any easy cuts. Such easy cuts as there were were made when the previous regime cut £140m-odd,” he said.
“We are well into very painful cuts already but they would not be as devastating were it not for the fact that the Norfolk MPs persuaded the government to take £169m of credits away from us.”
The £11.2m to be found by April is made up of 2.2m from lower-than-expected spending in 2013-14, £4m transferred from the authority’s general balances, and £5m by cutting spending on other council services.
They include £1.2m from the purchase of healthcare, £1.3m from deferring borrowing until next year, cancelling a £500,000 investment in community transport, and deferring a £400,000 community fund for a year.
The additional £15m could be found by bringing forward savings from later years, or finding extra cuts to make in 2014-15. Department managers have been asked to re-examine their budgets and report back to the cabinet on January 27.
Steve Morphew, cabinet member for finance, corporate and personnel, said the £26m fund was equivalent to the annual budget for Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service and admitted that finding £81.5m would mean unpalatable cuts.
“That’s a figure that keeps me awake at night. We are not just out of easy areas, once we get to that number we are into areas of serious risk,” he said.
Peter Timmins, the authority’s head of finance, said: “This is not an easy task. If it was that easy we would have done it already.”