‘Amber warning light’ to Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority over funding cuts

By Pip Pointon, Arc News Service

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) was issued with an “amber warning light” this week that continued cuts in the real-term value of its grants from the Government could leave it with only four priority programmes and its staff being reduced by almost a third.

The situation is so bad that at the full authority meeting on Tuesday that the authority’s head of finance and resources, Michelle Clyde, stated twice in the draft budget report for 2021/22 that members should see it as an “amber warning light”.

The chairman of the finance and resources committee, Neil Swain told the members: “In order to maintain a steady ship for 12 months, we’ve effectively allocated the whole of the general reserve to maintaining services in the next 12 months.

“Members must be really very clear that this is a budget that cannot be repeated.

“Unless we receive some significant increase in funding in the next 12 months members are going to have to make some major decisions on which elements of our programmes we are going to have to think about cutting back on.”

Ms Clyde explained that between 2010 and 2015 the national park grant in England fell by nearly 40 per cent in real terms which led to significant programme cuts and reductions in staff numbers.

In addition, the authority was experiencing cuts in the real-term value of the Defra grant because it had not been increased to allow for inflation since 2019.

She told members: “The draft budget has been prepared against a background of unprecedented uncertainty. In particular, the Government’s planned Comprehensive Spending Review  (CSR), which would have set our grant level for the next three years, has been postponed, and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our other sources of income will continue for some time.

“The financial outlook from 2022/23 onwards may be extremely difficult as the economic impact of dealing with Covid becomes clearer. The funding of public services will be a key issue for the Government to address.

“If that approach involves significant cuts in grant then all English national park authorities will come under severe pressure in delivering their programmes, particularly the four priorities that have been established by National Parks England: Dealing with the impacts of Climate Change; Nature and Wildlife recovery in National Parks; the future of farming and Land Management; and National Parks for everyone – improving access and diversity.”

She stated that the budget presented to the members was affordable without resorting to any programme cuts but the future was much less certain.

She added: “The impact on our programmes is very much dependant on the outcome of the CSR and the long term impact of Covid-19, as well as any changes in delivery that Defra might wish us to make in response to the (Glover) Landscapes Review.

The authority, she said, had adopted a “wait and see” approach to the situation last year but it did not have sufficient reserves to continue to prop up its spending plans.

“The likely state of the country’s finances makes the prospect of a significant cut to our Defra grant a real possibility again.”

The members were told that Defra had confirmed by email that the core grant for 2021/22 would be the same as last year with no increase for inflation but the formal agreement was still awaited.