York Council Leader Takes Cuts Worries to Westminster
5:24pm 9th January 2013
City of York Council’s leader and senior council officials today met with Nick Boles, at the Department for Communities and Local Government, to discuss the impact of the recent Local Government Finance Settlement for York and the council’s work to create a Local Plan for the city, in line with the new national policy approach.
Between 2007 and 2014 the council will have made savings of £80million. Emphasising that this has affected service provision already, Cllr James Alexander today voiced concerns that the next two years will see even greater impact on services, and to the most vulnerable people in the city. This warning came with a prediction that the spending review expected to be announced for 2013 will confirm further cuts, taking the council beyond efficiencies and different delivery models and into a reduction in the services it can deliver.
Cllr Alexander said: “Whilst we welcome the new homes bonus, this a very small percentage of the total spend for York, when for some districts it is over 30 per cent of their spending and therefore has greater impact. We are a low tax, low spend authority with council tax the 8th lowest of any unitary authority. We have a budget of £122million and minimal reserves at £6million - or 5per cent - of this; to provide for potential additional unforeseen expenditure, such as the costs of flooding.
“All of this means that restrictions upon council tax rises have a more severe impact for York. Inflation is over 3%, so a cap of 2% on council tax already represents a real cut to our spending power. Local choices are being restricted by a policy that simply assumes that freezing council tax is a good thing for residents. In reality, all it means is that residents will end up with a lower level of service for the same price. Creating small pots of funding or ‘new initiatives’, especially around growth, fails to consider the impact of the continual cuts being made.”
“In order to stimulate economic growth we established a one off £30million Economic Infrastructure Fund (EIF), which is being used to overcome infrastructure issues such as transport and high speed broadband, promote high growth sectors of the York economy, and develop the skills base in the city. I’m pleased that Mr Boles welcomed our work to foster economic growth in the city, and that the EIF as a key driver to this. However, we have stressed that this work is being hampered by schemes such as business rate localisation, which leaves York with just 24.5pence in every pound of local growth, and the cost of new and backdated appeals now having to be met by the council, when it should be borne by Government.
In addition to concerns over cuts to existing services, the council raised the lack of financial information for the transfer of Public Health as an immediate and urgent issue. York and North Yorkshire PCT are currently operating with a significant deficit, which the council has stressed will put new CCGs in a difficult place in their first year of operation and add further pressures to council budgets for social care.
The council also sought to gain confirmation today on the examination process for Local Plan applications, in order to ensure best value for the investment made in its development. Council representatives discussed York’s bid for support from Government, in the form of critical infrastructure investment, which could kick-start large development sites across the city. Several months ago the council sought support for a number of sites including; Germany Beck, York Central, and the Nestle and Rowntree sites and expects a decision by Government in March.
Cllr Alexander and Cllr Dave Merrett, Cabinet member for Transport, Planning and Sustainability also met with Hiscox in London; to discuss their move to York with the opening of a new UK office in the city, which will bring 300 jobs to York.
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