Broads Authority facing 30pc funding cut

The Broads Authority is facing a “huge challenge” because of a major cut in its main source of funding over the next four years.

STAFFING levels and services are both likely to be affected, said chief executive John Packman, after Defra warned the authority to plan for a 30pc cut in in its national park grant over the next four years.

The threat comes at a time the Broads is bidding to boost tourism by being named as a world heritage site and the Broads Tourism Forum is leading a concerted campaign to rebrand it as Britain’s magical water land.

The Defra grant makes up a large chunk of the authority’s �7.7m total income. Emergency plans have been put in motion to deal with the likely drastic cut which would mean a fall from the original settlement for 2010/11 of �4.44m – to �2.96m by 2014/15.

These plans include leaving some tasks to the private and voluntary sectors and looking at the whole structure of the Authority.

The funding crisis has rekindled the fierce debate over what role the Authority should have, with Mike Evans, president of Norfolk and Suffolk Boating Association, voicing the view of the boating lobby in the latest edition of Anglia Afloat that it should focus on dredging and avoid duplication in such areas as planning and conservation.

However, Peter Horsefield, chairman of the Broads Society, expressed his personal sorrow that the Authority was in such a position and suggested cost savings could better be made by streamlining conservation from top to bottom and examining the duplicating roles of Defra, Natural England, the Environment Agency and other bodies.

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Dr Packman said salaries equated to 60pc of the Authority’s core income and a reduction in grant on such a scale “cannot be accommodated by natural wastage or retirement alone”.

Staff had been kept briefed on the situation and meetings had been held with officials from the two recognised trade unions, Unison and GMB.

In a discussion paper prepared for a meeting of the Broads Forum advisory group on October 7, Dr Packman said a reduction in income of such a magnitude required the Authority “to examine all of its activities and the extent to which they are best suited for the future delivery of the Authority’s statutory purpose”.

A series of service reviews was consequently under way looking at all areas of the organisation which could be affected by the grant cuts. Recommendations would be made to the Broads Authority meeting on November 19.

He said Authority members had already agreed a set of guidelines for future allocation of funding.

These included focusing on activities where the Authority could maximise its impact because of its special skills, equipment and role, leaving other tasks to the private and voluntary sector; continuing its work to promote the enjoyment and understanding of the Broads; and giving priority to maintaining the special qualities of the Broads and focusing efforts on managing the most important sites.

The Authority had also agreed that “integration, flexibility and simplicity” should be the basic principles for the future delivery of services.

Dr Packman said this would mean developing staff to tackle different jobs, sharing equipment and pooling resources for big jobs, using internal resources where possible, and improving targeting of of resources through clearer priorities.

It would also mean focusing activities on key gateway sites to have the biggest impact, co-locating visitor centres, boat trips and events on high-profile sites where the largest number of people could be reached.

Dr Packman said it was still unclear how soon after the government’s October 20 spending review they would be given definitive news on the cuts.

He said decisions would be made more difficult by the fact they were already a lean organisation - only employing the equivalent of 120 full-time posts - and were ahead of the game in forging cost-saving partnerships with local authorities covering such areas as HR, finance and legal advice.

The Authority was working hard to bring in extra funding from Europe and would also be looking to maximise its income from such activities as fen management.