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North Yorkshire residents are invited to ask questions and give their views about the financial challenges facing the County Council as it prepares to decide on its budget for the coming year.

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County Council Leader Cllr Carl Les and Chief Executive Richard Flinton are urging people to join them for a live budget web chat on Tuesday, 23 January, between 5pm and 7pm.

Cllr Les said: “This will be the third year we have hosted a web chat to listen to people’s comments and questions about spending challenges and decisions facing the county. We found the previous sessions informative and hope members of the public that took part did, too.

“We want to hear people’s views and suggestions on the priorities that guide our work. Everyone who lives and works in North Yorkshire has a stake in the county, so we hope people will take the opportunity to ask their questions and share their views.”

County councillors will meet to consider and decide upon the proposed budget in February.

This year’s financial settlement, announced by the government in December, presents the county council with a difficult choice – to take the government’s offer of increasing council tax by a further one per cent or to make further cuts that will affect frontline services.

An additional increase of one per cent, on top of the increase already proposed in the council’s long-term financial strategy, would enable the authority to raise council tax by 2.99 per cent, plus a further two per cent towards adult social care. This overall increase would be equivalent to just under £5 a month for an average household.

The county council has long called on the Government to give fairer funding to large rural counties like North Yorkshire as a way of easing some of the pressures. People in North Yorkshire pay almost twice as much council tax in relative terms as those in some urban and London boroughs and receive less Government funding, yet the costs tend to be higher.

The settlement presents little change for the council’s finances, so austerity continues. Plans from last year saw the authority having to save a further £43m from its revenue budget by 2019/20. The council has plans for £33m, leaving a savings gap of at least £10m. This gives a total of £169.4m saved over the decade, a 34 per cent reduction in the council’s spending power. 

“It looks like there will be significant funding shortfalls beyond 2020,” said Cllr Les. “So the Council will be considering how it deals with those pressures as part of its longer term planning. Of the savings already made, only 25 per cent has had an impact on frontline services, with most coming from the back office, staff and management posts and other general efficiencies.

“The county council continues to prioritise spending in all areas that deal with vulnerable people, both young and old, but the demands on an increasingly stretched budget continue to grow.” 

Despite £5m of additional funding for adult social care raised through the two per cent social care precept in the council tax, the pressures are unrelenting and the county council expects a £3m overspend this financial year. Children’s services are seeing a similar increase in pressures. Although North Yorkshire is praised for its highly effective children’s prevention service, the number of child protection cases is starting to rise.

“Councillors must weigh these sorts of considerations when making budget and council tax decisions,” said Cllr Les. “In doing so, we listen to the concerns and questions of residents. This web chat is one way in which we can do that, reaching people across the county, so I urge anyone who can join us on 23 January to do so.”