Transport Talk column with Don MacKenzie
At its meeting last week, North Yorkshire County Council agreed its budget for 2017/18. Since 2011, like other county councils in England, the county will have experienced a reduction in spending power of Â£169 million by 2020, equivalent to a fall of 34 per cent.
The county’s share of council tax will increase by 1.99 per cent.
Additionally, there will be a two per cent precept to help pay for the rising costs of adult social care.
Savings have had to be made, and plans are in place to continue to reduce net spending over the next three years.
In the first place NYCC has always looked to back-office, non-front-line operations as priority areas for reductions, as well as taking steps to increase income.
The county council has statutory duties in relation to education and children’s services, and has responsibilities for adult social care.
As the number of residents aged over 65 increases both in absolute terms and as a percentage of the total population of North Yorkshire, so costs increase.
Adult social care now accounts for over 40 per cent of the county’s total budget.
Against this challenging backdrop, I am pleased to confirm that key parts of my own portfolio are being protected from further downward pressure.
We intend to maintain our support of bus subsidies in rural areas, where passenger numbers are too low to enable the bus operators to run a commercially viable service.
We invest £1.5m of taxpayers’ money in subsidised bus services each year.
This is on top of the £8m that NYCC pays out to bus companies for concessionary journeys made by bus pass holders, another area of protected investment.
We are very lucky in Harrogate to have some of the finest bus services anywhere in the UK, and they pay for themselves.
On the other hand, there are villages very close to our towns which would have no bus service at all without the help given by NYCC, and it is vital we protect that support.
We are maintaining our winter gritting service at the current level of £6m per year, which is one of the highest anywhere, and which allows us to treat the greatest proportion of our key highways network of any authority in the country.
Highways maintenance and repairs continue to be of the highest priority. Central government confirmed our capital allocation for maintenance at £26.6m for 2017/18, in addition to further contributions from the Pothole Action Fund of £2.4m, and £5.1m from the National Productivity Investment Fund.
All these sums are on top of previously confirmed spending commitments totalling £44m during the years 2014-2021.
Improvements in sustainable transport, especially cycling, will also be targeted, boosted by the successful bid by NYCC for just under £1m from the Government’s Access Fund.
This will be increased to £1.1m by a contribution from the county, and will be spent on schemes to encourage the use of sustainable transport in Harrogate, Scarborough and Skipton.
The county will continue to increase funding of bids for highways improvement schemes, including those for the A59.
A proposal to bid for funding of a diversion of that key trans-Pennine route at Kex Gill is at an advanced stage, whilst work continues to study the viability of, and options for, a Harrogate Relief Road in order to address widespread concern on the part of residents about congestion on our existing town centre roads, and about the resultant air quality problems at certain busy junctions.
Broadband and mobile telephony remain key targets for investment by NYCC.
The county, through its broadband company SFNY, will shortly confirm the award of a contract worth up to £30m in the latest phase of expansion of superfast (>24Mbps) broadband throughout North Yorkshire.