Durham County Council forced to cut £250m

By Becky Wilson
Durham County Council (640x427)
New austerity measures mean that Durham County Council will lose up to a quarter of a billion pounds in funding from central government by 2019.
Between 2011 and 2019, the council, which provides refuse collection, bus services and policing across County Durham, will have £250m less to spend on local services.This follows Chancellor George Osborne’s announcement of plans in his Autumn Statement to continue to cut local government spending.Durham County Council leader Simon Henig told Palatinate on Friday that the authority is under “tremendous strain” to accommodate the coalition government’s policy of austerity.“Though we are easing the burden on the public by saving money internally, front-line services inevitably have to be compromised.”

So far, there have been cutbacks of 20-30% across the board, and 2,000 redundancies in the council alone.

Last week, due to a change in the New Homes Bonus scheme, Durham County Council learned that it will receive an unexpected £600,000 from central government.

However, this short-term fix will do little to satisfy local councillors and residents, who believe the coalition is unfairly targeting the North East.

Henig says “some areas have had smaller cuts and there have been increases in areas of the South East while we continue to deal with large reductions.

“I don’t see how it can be fair or right if we are living in a period of national austerity that some of us should pay for that more than others.

“If there’s a period of national austerity, it should apply to Surrey just as much as it does to County Durham.”

On average, councils across the country will lose 1.8 per cent of their spending power, whilst Durham will face a loss of 2.7 per cent.

Nearby councils will also be hit hard, with Newcastle and Middlesbrough losing 4.9 per cent and 5.6 per cent respectively. In contrast, Surrey’s spending power will grow by 3.1 per cent.

Third year student Sadie Bartholomew, who lives in Newcastle, said: “I find it hard that my home town has to bear the brunt of austerity.

“Only last June, Osborne asserted the need for cities in the North to function collectively as a ‘northern powerhouse’ to prevent economic domination by London, and that ‘powerful’ local authorities were an essential way to achieve this.

“But such disproportionate cuts to funding will just make it harder for councils in the North East to operate effectively and deliver quality frontline services.”

In a speech at Durham Cathedral  earlier this month, Justin Welby,  Archbishop of Canterbury said:

“When you look at the relative investment in other parts of the country, this area merits, from its skills and the talent of its people, a lot more investment.”

Given the current economic climate, Labour councillor Simon Henig’s criticism of Osborne’s austerity measures could be perceived as unreasonable.

However, Henig told Palatinate that the problem is not with the measures, but with the way they have been handled.

“Of course there needs to be cutbacks, but there also needs to be honesty. Central government should be more open about the consequences of their budget cuts, rather than leaving it all to local councils. It is an extremely challenging situation.”

Photograph: Richard Roots


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