Cumbrians are being urged to give their views on proposals that could see the county council save £ 18million next year.
The call comes as the council launches its consultation on its 2013/14 budget. The consultation published today (21 November) at Cumbria.gov.uk seeks the public's views on a range of proposals to make the savings that will be needed if the council is to deliver a balanced budget.
Next year (2013/14) the council will continue to be faced with significant reductions to the funding it receives from central Government, which with residents' Council Tax, pays for the services the council provides.
With changes to how funds are allocated, alterations to Council Tax Benefit rules and the council having no choice but to spend more next year in certain areas, the total value of savings needed will be at least £ 18m - and potentially as much as £ 23.5m. These reductions require the council to find innovative solutions to save money and reduce costs.
So far the council has identified a wide range of proposals to meet the £ 18m savings target; it is possible that additional proposals will have to be published once the final savings target is known.
The proposals fall into three groups:
1. Internal budget changes saving £ 10.5m - for example using money that had been set aside but which is no longer needed for the purposes it was originally earmarked for.
2. Providing services more efficiently saving £ 5.2m - for example implementing pre-paid cards for delivery of personal budgets in Adult Social Care.
3. Changes to public services saving £ 2.2m - for example reductions in the budgets for the council's Local Committees.
The council is also asking local people whether it should accept the Government's offer of a Council Tax freeze grant.
In October the Government offered councils across the country a grant which would be paid for two years to allow them not to increase Council Tax charges. The value of this payment is only equivalent to a one per cent rise in Council Tax. The council must make a decision about whether or not to accept this offer.
Government also said that if a council wants to increase Council Tax by more than two per cent it has to hold a referendum to find out if local people support the increase.
The £ 18m the council needs to save in 2013/14 is based on the assumption that it will raise Council Tax by no more than two per cent. A decision whether to accept the offer or increase Council Tax will be made in February when the council agrees the budget.
But if the council does accept it, because the offer is only the equivalent of a one per cent Council Tax rise, this would mean that it would have to find approximately £ 2m of additional savings to balance the budget, raising the total savings target to around £ 20m for next year. The grant income would continue for the year after that (2014/15) but would cease in 2015/16 which means the council would need to find additional savings at that point.
The council is asking what people think it should do, in particular, if it accepts the offer and where it should look in order to make the additional £ 2m savings.
Cllr Eddie Martin, Leader of Cumbria County Council, said:
"Every day the county council delivers over 800 different services; services that are understandably taken for granted; some we have to do in law, others are discretionary. But they all have to be paid for. Thus far, over the past two years, we have managed to reduce our spending by £ 64million without seriously affecting or reducing the 'front line' services. We have done that, not by reorganising, but by re-engineering; finding new ways of doing things and by getting better value out of the many contracts we let. We have closely examined every department in order to squeeze down costs. That has not been easy. Now the task is getting even harder.
"At a minimum we have to save another £ 18m, probably more. We've pulled together proposals to achieve that but we need to know what the public think; which of the many services we provide could we or should we reduce?
"Additionally we have to make a decision about whether to accept the Government's offer of a Council Tax freeze grant. Of course we want to avoid increasing Council Tax if we can, but accepting the offer would actually mean finding even more savings that may affect services. This is a difficult decision and I want to hear from local people about what they think we should do."
The consultation runs until 31 January 2013. Further information on the consultation can be found at Cumbria.gov.uk along with the full consultation document and an online feedback form at:
People will also be able to get hardcopies of the consultation document at their local library or on request from the council on 01228 221023.
For general enquiries to Cumbria County Council's communications team contact email@example.com or call 01228 226338/ 221008/ 226601