North Yorkshire Council has announced that it is expecting to save millions of pounds worth of taxpayer money thanks to the biggest overhaul of local democracy in nearly half a century.
Since the new authority was launched at the beginning of August, in-depth analysis of finances has led to initial predictions of a £5 million underspend by the end of the 12 months of operating. This means a one-sixth reduction in the planned deficit, bringing the figure down from £30 million, to £25 million.
The benefits that have been realised by the merging of the eight councils, into the one new authority, have however been diluted by the ongoing financial challenges and global economic uncertainty.
Councillor Gareth Dadd, Executive member for finance and deputy leader of the council, said:
“We can already see the benefits of creating one single council for North Yorkshire with the chance to make millions of pounds of savings in the first year alone.
“While this is good news for taxpayers in North Yorkshire, we do still need to be realistic as the situation can change with the major financial challenges and uncertainty that are continuing to affect the global economy.
“We will make a concerted effort, though, to build on the work that has already been undertaken to make sure that every pound of taxpayers’ money is spent wisely and used as effectively as possible to deliver key services across the county.”
Lower energy costs have been the main driving force behind the underspend; however, the redeploying of staff has also contributed. This redeployment has been driven by the need to fill vacancies after the county council and seven district and borough authorities were merged into the one authority.
Health and adult services, and children and young people’s services, are currently facing significant financial pressures, however. There has been an increasing demand for the services that these two directorates provide, with the provision of care and support for adults to bring the spending up by £20.7 million since the end of the last financial year. There has also been major pressure being placed upon the authorities’ finances, through the support that is required for young adults that are living with multiple disabilities and older people with complex needs that are linked to dementia.
Alongside the care services, there is also expected to be a major shortfall when it comes to income for the council’s planning services, due to a reduction in the number of applications that are being submitted across the country. This has led to a forecasted reduction of around £1.3 million in the current financial year. Major pressure is also being faced by housing services, with predictions showing a £628,000 overspend this financial year. This is mainly due to the cost of accommodation for people that are homeless, leading to an estimated overspend of £424,000. A reduction in these costs in the future is the goal, with work being undertaken at the moment.
Overspends and deficits are being covered for the first year of the council, with one-off use of reserves being utilised. Whilst some savings are being made, further ones will need to be introduced in order to cover the expected widening of the financial gap. Due to this, the council is pulling together a ‘masterplan’ to bring in millions of pounds worth of savings across the council’s operations. With the opportunity that the devolution deal presents in streamlining the council’s key services and maximising the spending power of the authority, the council is expecting to recoup between £30 million and £70 million.
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