The opposition party has also insisted that ‘draconian cuts’ to services have only been spared for this year by the Government’s one-off approval to use capital funds to allow the authority to tackle its deficit.
The draft budget proposals for 2019/20 were revealed at One Angel Square on Monday, and Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Chris Stanbra says there are a ‘huge number’ of proposals to be raked over, and that the ‘devil will be in the detail’.
One of his biggest disappointments is the lack of a pay rise for county council staff this year. A two per cent increase will be implemented in 2021/22, and again the following year. But for Councillor Stanbra it is not enough.
He said: “I think it’s a huge disappointment for staff that they have not been able to find any money for a pay increase for them. After hearing about all the hard work they have put in, it’s a bit of a kick in the teeth for them. I know they have planned for it in future, but jam tomorrow is no jam today. That’s a shame, and hopefully, there will be some wriggle room on that.”
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With up to Â£43million of savings needed to be made, on first inspection, the budget does not appear to be the major slash to frontline services that would normally be expected from such a large sum.
A large part of that is down to the dispensation from the Conservative government to allow the Tory county council to use Â£70million of capital funds - normally reserved for building and infrastructure projects - to be used to tackle last year’s Â£35million deficit and put Â£20million into replenishing the council’s empty reserves balance. The remaining Â£15million is to be used as a ‘contingency’ should there be any issues with delivering the 19/20 budget.
Councillor Stanbra said: “This government dispensation to spend Â£70million on getting the council out of the financial hole it is in is nothing to be celebrated or congratulated for. Capital receipts that should have been spent on improving facilities will now be used to patch up our financial position.
“I know the minister has flagged this up as something that won’t happen very often, but once you have allowed one organisation to make a mess and give it a get-out-of-jail free card, then surely it becomes difficult to refuse others.
“We would be seeing much more draconian cuts if the council hadn’t had the Â£70million dispensation.”