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Council leaders play budget waiting game

June 8, 2020 4:14 PM

The Conservative cabinet at Norfolk County Council today considered reports on the financial impact of Covid 19 and planning for next year's budget and council tax.

With £63m additional spending this year (£20m more than grants received from government), the Council leadership was quite open in stating that it can only balance the books if it receives more government help.

"I was shocked by absence of any clear answers from Norfolk Tories today" said Liberal Democrat Group Leader Steffan Aquarone. "No answer was given to the Council's ever increasing budget gap, which was huge before the Covid19 pandemic and is likely to double in the coming months. It is dangerous to just wait for the government to step in with more money."

The Council had kicked off planning for the 2021 budget with a gap of nearly £39m before Covid took hold - back then, this was the equivalent of a 10% increase in council tax. Add the £63m extra spending from this year, plus the fact that business rates and council tax are expected to fall due to the impact of the pandemic on the economy, and it's easy to see how the budget gap could double by the Autumn.

"The Council seems to be refusing to include any of the factors that have emerged in its budget planning for next year! They're surely not planning on returning to a planned programme of cuts and savings, the failure of which was already cost them £17m this year?"

At Cabinet, portfolio holders expressed some dismay that the government's planned funding review for councils together with reforms to costs for social care will not happen this year.

"The Conservative government has repeatedly kicked local government funding and social case reforms down the road. And yet they have no plan b - a big part of the solution is delivering real local economic growth but when asked today the Cabinet member couldn't name a specific local economic scheme on which the County Council is leading."

At the Cabinet meeting the Liberal Democrats asked questions about how Norfolk County Council will support economic recovery and development in each district in the county. We specifically asked what outcomes could be expected by Norfolk day on 27th July. A stock non-answer was given that was the same for each district, failing to even recognise that there would be different challenges for Kings Lynn as opposed to Great Yarmouth, Norwich or the market towns. Economic development has to be at the heart of how our local communities and economy recover from this crisis but it also plays a major part in the financial future of the Council. In response to our questions we expected a list of different initiatives but instead received nothing. This is letting Norfolk down.

"It appears that the Norfolk Conservative leadership has no plan, and is just waiting for government help."

SA walk