Drastic cuts - council to face its ‘biggest challenge’

tis  Harrogate Bus Station.  (140317M4)
tis Harrogate Bus Station. (140317M4)

North Yorkshire County Council must make huge savings in the wake of 34 per cent Government funding cuts. RUBY KITCHEN reports as it sets out a vision for drastic change.

Radical changes are coming to the Harrogate district, the county council has warned, as it faces the biggest challenge in its history to find savings totalling £168m.

Libraries, bus services, and children’s centres are to face the full force of the change, with many across the Harrogate district to be axed or completely overhauled.

An army of volunteers will be needed to fill the breach, the authority has cautioned, calling on communities to ‘step-forward’ instead in these tough times of austerity.

“We can’t carry on with piecemeal, small-scale cuts,” said North Yorkshire County Council chief executive Richard Flinton. “This is the biggest challenge in the authority’s 40-year history.

“We have got to have fundamental change. If the council funding is getting 34 per cent smaller, there is no way we can carry on with the services that we have done.”

NYCC has until 2014/15 to save £95m and is already halfway through a programme of cuts to reach that target.

But in the four years following that - to 2018/19 - it must make further savings of £74m.

That’s a total saving of £168m against a starting budget of £500m - a cut in funds of a third since 2010 when demand for services is rising.

“The cuts are totally imposed on the council from above,” said council leader John Weighell.

“The grant from Government is falling every year. We have no alternative but to balance our services.”

Setting out this week where the axe will fall in coming years, Mr Flinton and Coun Weighell said a new way of thinking was needed.

The focus for the future will be about “enabling communities to work for themselves”, they said.

What it means in practical terms is that funding for services - from libraries to buses, children’s and youth centres, along with care for the elderly and salt bins - will be slashed.

Instead, the council is to look for an army of volunteers to run services themselves.

“If we want to protect services as much as we can we have to ask the community to step forward,” said Mr Flinton. “We can’t just wish for more funds.

“You get to such a level where you have to ask - do we keep making cuts? Or do we take a chunk of the money we have and do something different with it.”

The new approach would transform the council, he said. “Things are going to be different. There is no alternative.”

Whole-scale change is needed, the authority said, if the council is to carry on delivering.

“We are looking at big chunks of how the council does its business and looking at how we can do it in a different way,” said Coun Weighell.

“If our funds are to be cut that much we have to either not deliver - or deliver things differently.”

The council’s big aim, he said, was to carry on delivering the three main services - children’s services, adult services and roads.

“This is not a short term fix,” he added. “It’s about the four or five years to come.

“It’s about delivering services in a different way rather than just cuts, cuts, cuts.”

l Consultations on proposed changes and funding cuts would likely be held towards the end of this year and into early 2015.

2020 NORTH YORKSHIRE

Revealing a new vision for the county, called 2020 North Yorkshire, the authority has said it is to change in shape and size, outlook and philosophy. In years to come, council leaders say, its job will be to “enable and support others to deliver for themselves”, providing leadership and guidance rather than management. Whole-scale change is needed, they said, alongside an acceptance that the council won’t be able to provide traditional services.

WHERE THE CHANGES ARE COMING

LIBRARIES

NYCC currently runs 35 libraries in North Yorkshire, including Harrogate, Ripon, Bedale, Pateley Bridge, Starbeck, Sherburn and Tadcaster. A further seven - including Bilton and Woodfield Library, are ‘community-led’ and run by volunteers. The authority is now considering converting a further 23 of its 35 libraries - with the remainder to become hubs for community services.

JOB LOSSES

The council is to become smaller, ‘more agile’ and flexible, with job cuts of up to 800 posts.

CHILDREN’S CENTRES

The council says it is looking to transform youth services to save £3m, reassessing the way it delivers children’s centres, youth support and education social work. In future, teams could work remotely, and volunteers and community groups could be asked to take on some youth group and children’s centre activities. NYCC currently runs 37 children’s centres and has now warned that some will close. Necessary services, like midwifery and healthcare, will be maintained, while others, like mother and toddler groups, may have to become community led. In the Harrogate district, this could affect services at Harrogate Bilton children’s centre, at Woodfield Primary School, the Harrogate West Children’s Centre, in Saltergate and Rossett Acre Primary Schools, the Harrogate South Children’s Centre, in the grounds of Pannal School, Harrogate Town and Starbeck Children’s Centre on Wetherby Road, Knaresborough Children’s Centre, on Manor Road, Nidderdale and Harrogate Rural children’s centre, Ripon and rural children’s centre, Sherburn Children’s Centre, at Sherburn Library, and Tadcaster Children’s Centre, at the Manor Farm Youth Centre.

EXTRA CARE

The county council wants to focus on a preventative agenda to keep older people in their own homes for longer. It says the entire health and adult services operating model to be re-designed, placing a greater focus on prevention and re-enablement, overhauling services to help people to look after themselves for longer. It is looking to reduce the number of people going into homes for the elderly, encouraging them to stay in their own homes or in new ‘extra care’ facilities being set up, where people live in flats they own themselves but with access to 24-hour care and support. One such extra care centre, approved by NYCC in December and costing £26.5m, will see 142 new apartments build across three sites in Harrogate, at the former Highways depot in Starbeck, on Pannal Ash Road and Wetherby Road. The idea is that residents can live independently - with their own front door - but with access to shared services like restaurants and hairdressers, dementia care, and 24-hour support.

BUSES

NYCC is looking to expand its community led transport, while reducing subsidised ones. The authority currently spends £2.4m on subsidising services. Earlier this year it approved plans to cut subsidies by around £2m. It is now looking to save a further £0.9m. They would reassess how to spend the remainder - £1.5m - through dial-a-ride services, community minibuses, etc.

SCHOOL IMPROVEMENTS

NYCC would ask schools to organise themselves into clusters to take a role in deciding their resources. The authority said it would still give guidance and advice, but consider a different way of organising help that it provides.

HIGHWAYS

NYCC has pledged that highways in North Yorkshire will remain among the best protected in the country through severe winter weather. Savings of £750,000, it said, would come from internal efficiencies, and over-stocked salt bins to bring them in line with the rest of the country.