Norfolk services face cut of �140m

NORFOLK County Council bosses have warned the recession could force them to cut posts and services as they try to make �140m of savings over a three year period.

NORFOLK County Council bosses have warned the recession could force them to cut posts and services as they try to make �140m of savings over a three year period.

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

And council leader Daniel Cox has acknowledged “difficult choices” would have to be made over the services the authority delivers.

Finance officers, wary of the government's need to divert cash to repay debt, are assuming a grant freeze for 2011/12 and 2012/13, and that will heap pressure on services.

Although the council suggested posts could be lost, rather than jobs, with vacant posts not filled, union leaders said it would be a worrying time for the 20,000 strong county council workforce.

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.

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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.

Mr Cox said: “The chief executive of the Audit Commission has already said that the nation's finances face an Armageddon scenario and that managers of public services who are not planning on the basis they will have substantially less money to spend in two years time are living in cloud cuckoo land.

“In Norfolk, we are well used to dealing with challenges such as this, but the position over the next few years will certainly be very tough indeed.

“The �140m reductions and efficiencies referred to are projected at this stage and are spread over three years. They need to be seen in the context of our net budget of �560m.

“�140m represents our assessment of additional cost pressures over the next three years and are not dissimilar to those of previous years.

“What is different, however, is that we are expecting to have to meet all of this extra cost from efficiencies and other budget reductions, with no extra government grant support form 2011/12 onwards.”

Mr Cox said the county council was committed to freezing council tax in two of the next four years but added the authority was facing “difficult decisions”.

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

Mr Cox said: “It's impossible to say at this stage what the outcome of the budget review will be, but I am determined that no stone will be left unturned in seeking to minimise the impact of budget reductions on valuable front line services.

“Notwithstanding that, it is probable that given the scale of reduction required, we will be faced with difficult choices about the services we deliver.”

Jonathan Dunning, Norfolk branch secretary for trade union Unison, said: “We have got real concerns. The county council seems to say every year that next year will be really bad, and it's a bit like the boy who cries wolf. But next year could be the year the wolf does arrive.

“Something the council has been very good at is working with Unison to avoid compulsory redundancies, which would be the worst case scenario.

“Generally front-line services have escaped, but the scenario being painted does raise concerns over whether that will be maintained.”

The city council cabinet will discuss the issue as part of a report into service and financial planning from 2010 until 2013 when it meets on Monday.