Councillors to hear about initiatives to help residents and businesses during continuing austerity

The region’s largest council is to set out its approach to supporting local communities and businesses next week as it faces continued government funding cuts.

Durham County Council’s Cabinet will hear next week that the authority needs to make a further forecasted savings of £41 million over the next four years. This is in addition to the £209 million of savings it has now achieved since 2011/12.

The figures are contained in the latest update to the authority’s Medium Term Financial Plan, which outlines its long-term funding outlook and spending priorities.

The document also provides details of a number of schemes that the council hopes will continue to ease the burden of public sector spending cuts on residents in County Durham.

The authority is set to continue to operate its Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme, which for the past five years has offered eligible residents a discount against the council tax charge. The council is one of the few remaining authorities to have maintained its scheme in line with the old council tax benefit system despite funding being reduced.

The MTFP paper also includes a proposal to make care leavers up to the age of 25 exempt from paying council tax. Care leavers living with a member of their extended family or another adult who lives on their own would also be eligible for a 50 per cent council tax reduction if proposals are agreed.

Finally, there are plans for a scheme to support small businesses losing Rate Relief following revaluation of their properties, which could see up to 600 businesses benefitting from the initiative.

Cllr Simon Henig, Leader of Durham County Council, said: “The financial outlook for the council continues to be extremely challenging, with government funding reductions confirmed as continuing until at least 2020. Government cuts are extremely difficult to manage in their own right but we also have to deal with year-on-year pressures on our budget, which means even greater savings are required.

“Over the coming months, we will continue work to identify the savings required to balance the 2018/19 budget.

“In the meantime, however, we are putting forward a number of schemes that will help to lessen the impact of austerity on residents and businesses in the county.”

The authority will again be consulting with the public later in the year over savings for the next 12 months.

Cllr Alan Napier, Deputy Leader and Cabinet member for finance, said: “Since 2010 we have made savings of over £200 million in order to balance the budget. Government funding reductions will continue until at least 2020 and we now face the prospect of trying to set a balanced budget in very uncertain times.

“There are many unknowns in relation to issues that will have a significant impact on our future financial position, including changes to the business rates we are allowed to keep, the future of adult social care funding and how austerity will impact local government beyond 2020.

“Our approach to medium term financial planning has so far allowed us to protect frontline services but I cannot over emphasise how challenging the next four years are going to be.”

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