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Fair choices in tough times

In a bid to replace some of the funding cut by Government the authority will also consult on a rise in council tax of up to 2 per cent - the first rise in four years. That would add 34p a week to a band A property.

The money raised will be used to protect frontline services, but the council no longer has the resources to do all the things that it used to do and faces some unpalatable decisions.

The latest proposals – a response to rising cost pressures and Government cuts - are set out in the council’s budget report Fair choices in tough times.

About 260 jobs are expected to be shed in line with previous estimates - approximately 1,300 from 2013-16. This is on top of 1000 jobs between 2010-13.

In October the authority revealed how it has to make £90m of cuts over the next three years - on top of £151m it has saved over the last four years.

From 2011 to 2018 the council’s government grant will have been cut by £77m. This would be equivalent to a Council Tax increase of 91% or the business rates increase from 70 large new supermarkets.*

The leader of the council, Cllr Nick Forbes, said there was no fat left to cut at the council but pledged to invest in capital schemes to create jobs, grow the economy and retain critical assets.

Cllr Forbes said: “What we are faced with now is exactly what we predicted two years ago - the dismantling of public services.

“When politicians in Westminster cheer at the prospect of more austerity, this is what it means on the ground for people in cities like Newcastle.

“We have looked at every line of expenditure for savings in a bid to protect services for those who need them most. We have cut our numbers of managers, we have rationalised our support services and we have discontinued some services altogether such as play and youth and even sold the Lord Mayor’s coach.

“Already we have taken 50 per cent out of our administration and support services and are now left with impossible choices in order to set a balanced budget which we must do by law.”

In order to achieve its latest round of savings, the council is now reluctantly looking at a number of measures including:

·        Reorganising its Sure Start Centres to save £4.7m

·        Charging disabled blue badge holders to park their cars in council owned car parks – but not off-street

·        Less funding for school crossing patrols while looking for alternative provision with schools

·        Withdrawing funding for the Quaylink bus service from the city centre to the Quayside

·        Increasing charges for meals at home from £3 to £4

Cllr Forbes continued: “We are faced with some impossible choices, and reluctantly now have to consult on raising council tax to replace some of the money lost from Government which would otherwise have meant deep cuts to services like street cleaning.

“For the first time we are being very clear about what we are committing to invest in and how with far fewer resources we are targeting our funding more than ever. So we will continue to support the poorest people through our council tax support scheme and our welfare rights service for those who are in debt.

“We will continue to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds with our bursary scheme. We will invest in our highways and in major sporting events such as Rugby World Cup to attract visitors to the city to help grow the economy.

“Creating and attracting jobs is a vital part of our aim to be a working city.”

Between now and 2016/17 the council will invest £460m in capital programmes – in homes, roads, jobs and training and infrastructure improvements at development sites. This is money that must be spent on capital projects and cannot be used for revenue purposes such as public services.

The council is also trying to mitigate the effects of the cuts by working differently and collaboratively with partners.

No decisions have been taken on the budget. A consultation period is now open until January 31, 2015, for residents and businesses to make known their views on the draft proposals.

Any changes arising from this process will be included in a revised report that will go to Cabinet on February 23 for agreement and then presented to the city council on Wednesday, March 4, for debate and approval.

Find out more about the budget proposals and how to have your say on the Budget 2015-16 pages.

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