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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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Job fears as Cumbria County Council ordered to cut extra £3m

Cumbria County Council is bracing itself for years of austerity as the Government announced its local authorities grant settlement for the coming year.

Councils across the county are now planning for a 2.9 per cent cut in funding. But county council finance chiefs say the latest figures have revealed that the financial year after next – 2015 to 2016 – will see the authority having to make nearly £3 million more savings than originally anticipated.

The authority now expects it will have to slice almost £34m from its budget, rather than the £31m that officials originally planned for.

County council bosses have already conceded that 600 jobs are at risk, but the latest figures suggest that even more may have to go.

“We’re doing everything we can to keep the [redundancy] figure as low as possible, but if we’re going to lose more money than expected then it seems almost inevitable that we would have to lose more,” said deputy leader Jo Stephenson.

He said that in the coming financial year, the authority would, when inflation is accounted for, have to cope with a more than £20m reduction in funding.

“We’re prepared for it and it’s not appetising,” he said.

The Government’s settlement was announced by local government minister Brandon Lewis. He said it should leave councils nationally with “considerable total spending power” of £2,089 per dwelling.

It should, he added, give them the stability and certainty needed to plan budgets and “move ahead with transforming local services and ongoing efficiency”.

Mr Lewis said: “English local government accounts for £1 of every £4 spent on public services and is expected to spend some £117 billion in 2013-14.

“So the settlement that we are proposing recognises the responsibility of local government to find sensible savings and make better use of its resources. We have tried to be fair to every part of the country – north and south, rural and urban, metropolitan and shire. Of course, it is inevitable that individual local councils will wish to call for more funding for their area.”

But Brian Strutton, national secretary for public services at the GMB union, said: “The combination of these higher-than-expected budget cuts on top of the cuts that have already taken place and continuing council tax freezes means that local authority finances are in a state of near collapse. If we are to maintain any vestige of community support for the neediest groups of people there is no other alternative than to put more money in.”

Dave Armstrong, a Carlisle based regional official with the public sector union Unison, said: “This just means that more people will be facing a future on the dole. If it keeps going like this, local authorities are going to struggle to provide even the statutory services, but these are all services that are desperately needed.”

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