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05.02.19

Cumbria County Council facing £47m debt as it deals with host of ‘uncertainties’

Cumbria County Council needs to find £47m in cuts as it prepares to meet and set its budget, but councillors have warned that “uncertainty” has affected plans for savings and that businesses “struggling to predict the unpredictable.”

The council will meet for a crucial budget talks later this month still needing to cut £46.9m from its budget between 2019 and 2022, and deputy leader Peter Thornton has warned that the future funding of the council remains unclear.

A 3.99% increase in council tax is expected, but plans for cutbacks have been held back as the council waited for a government reforms which Thornton said will impact “how we provide our frontline services over the next few years.”

He said the authority was still awaiting details from the fair funding review consultation which closed last March, and criticised the government over the green paper on social care for adults which was due six months ago but has not yet been published.

Consultation is also currently out for business rate retention reform which will form a major part of the future funding for the council from 2020-21.

“Dealing with all of these uncertainties we must plan for the next three years, for there are some things of which we are certain,” Thornton said.

The council needs to provide care for around 700 children and 8,000 elderly residents and vulnerable adults – on top of maintaining infrastructure for 5,000 miles of road, 1,775 bridges and potholes.

Thornton also said the council plans on opening two new care homes in Carlisle and Copeland, and paid tribute to council staff who he described as “an asset beyond price.”

Cumbria also faces further uncertainty with plans in the county for a major local government reorganisation which would see the council abolished in favour of a larger, single unitary council.

The county council submitted proposals for the unitary system in November 2018, and the changes reportedly offer a significant financial incentive for merger services whilst the council prepares to set out its £47m of savings.

Last month it emerged that up to 200 council jobs could be lost if the merger between the county’s seven councils goes ahead.

Cumbria is the latest of many councils considering replacing their current structure with unitary authorities, with Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Buckinghamshire and Leicestershire councils all considering or having approved plans.

 Image credit - Geograph

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