Almost two thirds of people who took part in a consultation agreed with Durham County Council’s approach to making budget savings for 2017/18. The authority asked residents to help set its spending priorities at a series of meetings and roadshow events during September and October. Officers and councillors spoke to more than 3,000 people across County Durham, with 1,919 of them completing a questionnaire giving their feedback. Of those who returned a Public Backs Council Budget questionnaire, 63 per cent said they believed the council’s approach to making future savings was a reasonable way to go forward for 2017/18. And almost half (49.7 per cent) said they had not noticed any change to council services during the last five years.
The figures are included in an update on 2017/18 budget planning to be discussed by Durham County Council’s Cabinet when they meet next week. The Medium Term Financial Plan paper also reflects on the content of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. It recommends that savings of £39.8 million are now required for 2017/18. This would require £20.7 million of savings to be made, with £19.1 million to be taken from reserves set aside as part of the council’s medium term approach to balancing the budget. These figures would take overall savings for the period 2011/12 to 2019/20 to £251 million. Cllr Simon Henig, Leader of Durham County Council said: “Times are still tough for us financially but we continue to work hard to provide the highest levels of service across the county. There is still much for us to be proud of in County Durham.
“It is also reassuring to know that most residents agree with our approach to the way we are making savings. We really appreciate the public being involved in the budget process. “It is extremely important that we understand where the public’s priorities lie when it comes to funding as everyone’s opinions matter and even more so with the financial challenges ahead of us.” Cllr Alan Napier, Deputy Leader of Durham County Council and Cabinet member for Finance, said: “Since the start of austerity the council has faced unprecedented savings targets. It’s a testament to the hard work of everyone involved that nearly half of those taking part in the consultation agree that we’ve managed to meet these so far without noticeably reducing services. “We await the budget settlement later this month and urge the Chancellor to acknowledge the urgent requirement to recognise the national social care funding crisis that is unfolding across the country.” Cabinet meets at County Hall on Wednesday, 14 December