'No stone being left unturned' in tackling £36m deficit

Coun Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate resources.
Coun Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate resources.

A senior Northumberland councillor says that the aim is to avoid job losses, despite significant further budget cuts required over the next three years.

‘No stone is being left unturned’ in efforts to fill the £36million black hole in Northumberland County Council’s finances.

But Coun Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate resources, said that it was not possible to confirm if any jobs are to be lost at this stage, with the final budget not due to be approved until next February.

“Wherever possible, we will avoid job cuts and, wherever possible, any job losses would be voluntary, but we do need to find £36million,” he added.

As previously reported, a budget update revealed that while the deficit has dropped from £65million to £36million, the authority still needs to slash a further £27million from its budget over the next three years.

Initial proposals have now been set out as to how the council will save £24million of that, although it was highlighted that this was an interim step ahead of the formal budget proposals to allow for public consultation.

The £24million to be saved up to 2022 is made up of £3.8million from children’s services; £10million from adults, wellbeing and health; £1million from culture, leisure and arts; £1.6million from planning, housing and resilience; £1.7million from resources, revenues and benefits; and £4.9million from environment and local services.

A One Council programme to look at the likes of management structures, commercial opportunities and budgets for printing, photocopying, postage and mileage will aim to contribute a further £1million in savings.

At the authority’s corporate services committee yesterday, Coun Malcolm Robinson asked what exactly was meant by the ‘operational efficiencies’ and ‘fee optimisation’ mentioned in relation to environment and local services.

Coun Oliver explained there were a number of ideas being looked at, but examples include the reorganisation of bin collection routes to make them more efficient and looking at the fees for the collection of garden waste.

“It’s about leaving no stone unturned,” he said, adding that they were taking ‘a very realistic approach’ in terms of income generation, which wasn’t always the case in the past.

Coun Robinson also asked about the jump in the savings proposed in children’s services in the third year (2021-22) – £3.1million, up from £0.2million next year and £0.5million in 2020-21.

Coun Oliver said that this was because a number of invest-to-save projects were being drawn up, which will take some time to implement.

In response to a question from Coun Tom Wilson, it was clarified that the culture, arts and leisure savings do not relate to leisure centres, which are managed by Active Northumberland.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service