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Norfolk County Council deputy leader Andrew Jamieson says ‘difficult decisions’ lie ahead when proposing budget

Norfolk County Council says it has proposed a balanced budget – but admits it faces “difficult decisions” in order to deliver it.

That is the message from deputy council leader Cllr Andrew Jamieson, who is proposing £52.2million of new savings, including £1.4million that may require further consultation.

The authority is looking to save cash in order to deal with pressures such as inflation, legislative requirements and demand and demographic issues.

Norfolk County Council’s headquarters in Norwich
Norfolk County Council’s headquarters in Norwich

Cllr Jamieson said: “We’re doing our best to protect key services – but faced with rising costs, rising demand and under-funding, we must take difficult decisions to balance the books.

“Over the past four years, we have successfully made savings by transforming the way we deliver services. I want to continue that long-term approach, instead of having to make short-term decisions that may store up problems in future.

“That’s why the Government should help to ease our immediate pressures, to give us the space to do that properly.”

Cllr Andrew Jamieson, the deputy leader of Norfolk County Council
Cllr Andrew Jamieson, the deputy leader of Norfolk County Council

Cllr Jamieson has outlined the situation in a report to the county council’s cabinet. He says the Government’s autumn statement and provisional funding settlement “set out a worse funding position for local authorities than had previously been anticipated, including an unexpected and sharp reduction in services grant”.

The council is £4million worse off than it had expected to be.

Cllr Jamieson said that, while the authority proposes a balanced budget – with the net budget funded by council tax totalling £527.7million – he “cannot shy away from the fact that the council faces an extremely challenging financial outlook and this year’s budget includes a number of difficult decisions which we do not take lightly”.

Cllr Jamieson added: “The simple reality is that, in common with almost all other upper tier authorities, we face very significant financial pressures arising from rising costs driven by inflation, growth in demand and the National Living Wage.”

The report says local government is facing growing demand and cost pressures and notes that a number of councils have had to declare section 114 notices, as they could not achieve a balanced budget.

Norfolk County Council says that, by proposing “significant savings across all services”, it will be able to agree a robust and sustainable budget for the year ahead.

The key suggestions made are:

- £116million of investment to meet demand and cost pressures – including £34.7million for inflation, £37.6million for legislative requirements and £39.7million for demand and demographic issues.

- £52.2million of new savings, including £12.1million from transforming “how the council operates”.

- New savings proposals totalling £1.4million may require further consultation and will then be brought back to cabinet for decisions.

A proposed 4.99% increase in the authority’s share of council tax, in line with the Government’s capping level (2.99% for general council tax and 2% for adult social care). This would increase the council’s share of band D bills to £1,672.11. A 4.99% rise would generate £24.9million.

A small number of the budget proposals have been identified as potentially requiring public consultation, as they may relate to a policy or service change. These include:

- Charging an admin fee for brokering on behalf of people who self-fund their adult social care

- Review of the adult social care non-residential charging policy – including the Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG)

- Recommissioning of social isolation and loneliness contracts

- Norfolk Record Office: Pre-booking of visits and new paid services to increase income generation

- Switching off 2% of streetlights

- Recycling centres: Reduction of opening hours at some recycling centres to deliver a more consistent approach, in line with neighbouring authorities

If, following public consultation, any of the proposals are not implemented, departments have been told they will need to make alternative savings.

Once the county council’s cabinet has considered the proposals, they will be considered by the authority’s scrutiny committee, before the full council sets the budget on February 20.

Cabinet meets at 10am on Monday, January 29 to consider the report.

The proposed net budget for each service:

- Adult social services: £279.9million, including £14.2million savings and £56.9million growth.

- Children’s services: £240.7million, including £13.2million savings and £31.7million growth.

- Community and environmental services: £202.6million, including £9.6million savings and £14.5million growth.

- Strategy and transformation: £30.1 million, including £709,000 growth.

- Chief executive’s: £4.3million, including £330,000 savings and £221,000 growth.

- Finance: £230.2million (a net income budget), including £7.9million savings and £11.8million growth.

What the report says about pressures facing local government:

“Looking to the future, the funding position for 2025-2026 onwards looks to be particularly challenging, with no new money in the system for social care pressures.

“Fair funding remains deferred and looks increasingly unlikely to be realised in any meaningful way. All local authorities therefore continue to face a wide range of core risks and uncertainties, with the funding position for the sector as a whole appearing increasingly unsustainable.”

The report says that, although the council’s budget increases each year with council tax, it is not increasing enough to meet growing needs and costs.

It adds: “The council faces significant inflationary and demand pressures, including additional costs from the level of the National Living Wage, which is set by Government.

“For local authorities, notional real-terms growth is not keeping pace with budget pressures. Demand-led pressures in social care, children’s, homelessness and high-needs schools budgets are easily outstripping the increases in funding.”

The council’s reserves:

Due to the pressures facing the council, it is forecasting to reduce its non-schools earmarked and general reserves by 36.7% over five years, from £175.2million to £110.9million.

The council’s general reserves are expected to rise from £26.6million to £30.4million over that period, reflecting “the need to maintain the general fund at 5% of the net budget”.

What the report says about campaigning for funding:

“The county council continues to engage with Government, MPs and other stakeholders to campaign for adequate and sustainable funding for Norfolk to continue to deliver vital services for residents, businesses and visitors.

“Potentially significant funding reforms, including long-delayed social care reform, the fair funding review and business rates reset have been repeatedly delayed and are likely to be dependent on the priorities of any new Government following the anticipated 2024 General Election.

“It is likely that reforms will not be brought forward until 2026-27 at the earliest.”

The report refers to the council’s response to the Government’s consultation on the funding settlement.

It says the council has called for the Government to reverse the reduction to services grant, which was not communicated to councils in advance and which has cost Norfolk County Council £5million.

What the report says about council staff:

“A number of the specific proposals set out in this report have various staffing implications and staff consultation will therefore need to be undertaken as appropriate, as the proposals are further developed and implemented following approval by the county council.”

What are the proposed county council charges for each council tax band?

Band A: £1,114.74

Band B: £1,300.53

Band C: £1,486.32

Band D: £1,672.11

Band E: £2,043.69

Band F: £2,415.27

Band G: £2,786.85

Band H: £3,344.22

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