Norfolk: County Council budget proposals

A budget that freezes Council Tax while targeting help where it is needed most is what Norfolk County Council leadership has said is being proposed in reports to be considered by Cabinet on Monday (January 28).

If agreed by Cabinet and Full Council on February 18, in 2013/14 around £1.5 billion, including some £95m on capital projects, will be spent by Norfolk County Council on providing services.

Out of this, £302.587m will be raised through the Council Tax. The budget reflects £44.5m in rising costs, some of which will be paid for from one off sources of funding. The budget includes £34.2m of ongoing savings, many of which reflect decisions made as a result of the Big Conversation .

The reports also recommend some additional proposals for using £8m of available one-off funding to support Norfolk’s most vulnerable people and investing in key projects that are priorities for local communities.

Bill Borrett, acting leader of the council, said: “These budget proposals reflect the difficult times we live in, not only for councils and the national economy, but for local businesses and our residents. The budget sets out to support Norfolk’s most vulnerable people, especially our older people and children, while giving a high priority to supporting jobs and the economy through targeted spending designed to help support local businesses.

“Decisive action and sound financial management over the last two years is allowing us to propose an additional £8m of one-off spending to support vital services, and to invest in projects closest to the hearts of our communities.

“At the same time, we are proposing a Council Tax freeze for a third year running. This is not the time to ask hard-pressed families and people on fixed incomes to pay even more.”

In addition to seeking approval to a budget which will see some £1.5bn spent on services next year, the budget proposals include recommendations for spending the additional one-off funding of £8m announced earlier in January:

• £0.5m to support prevention services for older people by investing in the Strong and Well Partnership capital programme. This will be followed by £0.5m in the following four years (total £2.5m over 5 years). Alongside this, additional ongoing funding of £0.5m will be provided to support day to day prevention services for older people. Taken together with the capital programme changes also being announced, the total additional investment in prevention services will be £5m over 5 years. A key part of the work that will be funded is training a network of volunteers to provide an ‘at your door’ service to older and vulnerable people, to promote uptake of services, social opportunities and digital inclusion.

• A £1m boost for the Council’s popular Community Construction Fund, offering opportunities for local communities to bid for funds for projects that will enhance community life, and work for local builders and suppliers. Over 40 grants have been allocated this year, with a further round of grants to be announced in March.

• £1m more for local highways improvements in conjunction with parish councils. This is in addition to the £100,000 already earmarked for Parish Partnership projects. In 2012/13 the Parish Partnerships scheme has already delivered over 30 local improvements, ranging from road crossings and paths to vehicle activated signs.**

• £1m for investing in other highways improvements. Proposals will be developed with priority given to schemes that support communities and businesses, as well as local transport plan objectives.

• £1m over two years to help raise standards in schools and improve the prospects of Norfolk’s young people by helping schools, headteachers and governors develop the most effective approach to improving outcomes for the county’s children and young people, sooner. Members of Children’s Services Overview & Scrutiny Panel are due to meet this Thursday to discuss proposals further.

* £1m over two years for Youth Advisory Board (YAB) initiatives. This extra financial support will enable Norfolk’s seven YABs to support more young people by funding additional projects and initiatives that have been requested by young people in their areas.

• £3.5m to support vulnerable children and families following the reduction in Government Early Intervention Grant. This additional funding means the County Council can continue to support Norfolk families at the earliest opportunity in a range of settings despite the reduction in funding.

The budget proposals also recommend a further £95.7m is invested in capital projects to maintain and improve services while providing local jobs.

Harry Humphrey, Cabinet Member for Finance and Performance added “We have made enormous progress towards meeting the financial savings faced by the council. In 2013/14 we will be managing with £34m less, and it is clear that we have got to become even more financially self-sufficient and responsive in the future as the impact of funding reductions continues. That is why the Council’s Enterprising Norfolk programme was launched last November.

“The positive way our staff have responded to the need to change and adapt gives me every assurance that we can face the considerable further challenges ahead with real confidence. It is clear that Norfolk County Council will continue to play an important role in speaking up for the county so that it can prosper and grow, and in supporting public services. We are responsible for spending some £1.5billion a year on essential public services and we should focus on what the Council can best do to support people and businesses and make sure that we do it as well as possible.”