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Government blamed for spending squeeze

PUBLISHED: 11:34 11 August 2009 | UPDATED: 14:40 03 July 2010

NORFOLK County Council leaders have blasted the government for placing the authority in a position where £140m worth of savings will need to be made over the next three years.

NORFOLK County Council leaders have blasted the government for placing the authority in a position where £140m worth of savings will need to be made over the next three years.

But councillors insisted the authority was in a good position to weather the storm which is predicted to hit the public sector in the next few months.

County Hall is bracing itself for an expected squeeze on public spending, which would see local authorities get smaller grant settlements from the government.

Council leader Daniel Cox has acknowledged “difficult choices” would have to be made over the services the authority delivers, although he said the aim was to cut vacant posts, rather than jobs, and find ways to save cash by making the council more efficient.

At a meeting of County Hall's ruling Conservative cabinet yesterday, the blame for the pressure was placed firmly at the government's door.

Mr Cox said: “The disastrous state of public finances means next year is going to be difficult for the public sector as a whole.

“But if you look at the savings we have made of £80m in the past three years, it means we are in quite a good situation.

“I do not think that means it will be painless for us, but we are in a better situation than most councils in the country. Despite the savings we have had to make, we are a four star council.”

Harry Humphrey, cabinet member for fire and community protection, said: “The government is in a financial mess and that means the burden falls on local councils across the country, so no wonder public services are suffering.”

With inflation, demographic growth and new legal requirements adding up to £50m to the council's spending each year, the authority relies on government grants and council tax to meet some of that cost.

The potential scenario after 2010/11 is that, if the government does not increase grants, all service pressures will have to be met from savings and efficiencies - with a projected £140m saving needed in the next three years.

But the cabinet made clear it has no intention of hiking its share of the council tax, with the administration having already promised any increase will be below inflation, while there will be two council tax freezes in two of the next four

years.

At the moment officers are planning on a 2pc council tax increase for 2010/11, with freezes assumed in 2011/12 and 2012/13.

Adrian Gunson, cabinet member for planning and transportation, warned: “Because the government had got the country into such as huge financial muddle, the knock-on effect on local councils will be detrimental to the public at large and it is very difficult to avoid that.”

Officers are working on options to meet the pressures and will present them to councillors in the autumn.

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