Cash boost of nearly £9m proposed for Devon services as council confirms tax freeze
Nearly £9 million extra will be spent on Devon County Council services next year if a new budget is approved later this month.
Council leader John Hart tabled the revised budget today.
It calls for an extra £8.7 million to be spent in 2013/14 – an increase from the target budget agreed before Christmas.
Mr Hart also confirmed he would be proposing a council tax freeze at the authority’s budget meeting on February 21.
More than a third of the extra spending - £3.1 million - will go on supporting Devon’s 43 children’s centres and Early Years’ Services following the Government’s withdrawal of its Early Intervention Grant.
A further £1.2 million will reinstate reductions in pothole repairs and winter maintenance following the severe storms which battered the county and damaged roads and other infrastructure.
And £1 million is being ring-fenced for emergency repairs should there be more storms which qualify for Government support under the Bellwin Scheme. Almost £2.3 million is being set aside for infrastructure development.
Mr Hart is also proposing an extra £500,000 for gully maintenance and other services to keep drains clear in rural areas.
In other areas of the budget, £250,000 is being earmarked to cover the extra cost of helping people in Devon who are affected by welfare reforms with another £50,000 additional support for Citizens Advice Bureaux.
And £100,000 will be set aside to train parish volunteers to tackle emergencies in their areas in a move by Devon to help local communities help themselves. Another £100,000 will pay for feasibility studies into renewable energy schemes.
If approved, most of the extra money will come from the council’s Budget Management Reserve.
Devon’s deputy leader and Cabinet member for finance, John Clatworthy, said the authority had consulted with a range of business and community groups about the 2013/14 budget.
He said: “We also listened closely to the views of the scrutiny committees which examined our proposals. This revised budget takes account of all those views and includes extra spending where it is sensible and prudent to do so.”
The £521 million budget calls for £1.4 million extra to be spent on services for people.
There will be extra money for child protection with 17 more frontline social workers due to increasing numbers of children needing care and six more social workers in adoption and looked after children.
The county council is also investing in improved services for older people.
There is a multi-million pound continuing programme of investment to convert some of the county’s care homes into centres of excellence for people with dementia.
And new initiatives are being pioneered with the NHS, like Hospital at Home, which allows people who might otherwise have been admitted to hospital after a fall or similar accident to have health and social care available in their own home.
Mr Hart said: “This is a budget that maintains and even improves essential services while not asking our residents to pay a penny more.
"We promised the people of Devon when we took over in 2009 that we would ensure they got value for money.
"We started cutting costs straight away. We froze most job recruitment, reduced our payroll without major redundancies and slashed bureaucracy and red tape.
“We did that whilst maintaining essential frontline services and becoming more efficient and business-like.
“Indeed, because we reduced the scale of this authority’s borrowing, we now have £17.7 million available for frontline services that would otherwise have been swallowed up in capital financing costs.
“We’ve already been accused of freezing council tax because there’s an election in May.
“I would simply point out that we’ve frozen council tax in the previous two years as well and ask where the elections were in those years.
“We believe in setting our own house in order first and cutting costs where we can before asking our residents to dip into their own pockets.”
Mr Hart completed a programme of 18 consultation meetings across Devon in the autumn.
More than 16,500 people responded to the consultation by attending meetings or making comments on the website.
Altogether, 76 per cent said they believed Devon County Council had done a good job in protecting services and limiting the impact of spending reductions.
Mr Hart said: “No one wants to see spending reductions but it is very heartening that over three quarters of those who responded thought we had done a good job in protecting services.
“The top three areas which people wanted protected were community care services for older people and those with physical disabilities, keeping vulnerable children safe and residential and nursing care for older people.
“This budget puts these services at the top of our priorities along with creating the conditions to allow the Devon economy to grow and create good jobs for our people.”
Mr Hart said this week’s announcement by Prime Minister David Cameron that Devon would be one of 11 areas in the UK to qualify for European transitional aid was one example of the county council’s successful campaigning to boost the economy.
He said: "We have been campaigning strongly for this with the support of our MPs and I am delighted that the Prime Minister has recognised the justice of our case.
"We don't yet know what the budget will be but it should mean Devon will be eligible for a bigger proportion of European funds for major projects designed to boost the economy and create jobs.
“If Devon can secure greater European subsidy, then our key economic growth projects stand a greater chance of going ahead.
"What we want to do is create the climate for our economy to grow and support the private sector in delivering high-value, added growth through investment in infrastructure, including digital infrastructure, research and development, innovation and skills.
"It's early days yet but I am cautiously optimistic this is very good news for the Devon economy and the prosperity of our residents.
“We've worked very hard with our partners to make this case and we will be liaising closely with the Local Enterprise Partnership which will play a key role in managing European funds after 2014.”