Dales approves most ambitious budget

The body charged with conserving and promoting the Yorkshire Dales National Park has approved its most ambitious programme of projects since being established in 1954 after hearing its direct government funding has dwindled to only half of its budget.

However, a meeting of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority at Tennants in Leyburn heard the £11.2m spending plan for the coming financial year would be unsustainable in coming years as it was being supported by new external funding and the extensive use of reserves.

Officers have warned the proportion of external funding in the budget had now reached its workable limit and without a rise in its government grant the scale of the necessary budget cutbacks are likely to result in reduced services and work programmes from next year.

Referring to its government grant, the authority’s director of conservation and community Gary Smith told members: “Essentially we are getting the same amount now as we were getting in 2010. What has changed is the amount of income we have generated from other sources.”

The meeting heard the authority’s spending this year would soar by some 30 per cent over last year, and featured a huge increase in funding for land management activities, partly due to the authority’s success in attracting grants from a range of bodies.

Members were told the Defra-funded Farming In Protected Lanscapes and Woodland Trust’s Grow Back Greener initiatives were each supporting three authority staff as well as directly investing almost £2m into the national park’s farms and businesses.

After being asked if the authority should be holding back more of its reserves given the range of uncertainties facing the authority, such as inflation, its chief executive David Butterworth said using the reserves was partly about wanting to deliver on the authority’s aims.

He added the decision to use the majority of its unallocated reserves also related to being “a little nervous about any government and whether they may claw back some reserves if they felt national park authorities were hoarding”.

Mr Butterworth said the authority wanted to government to provide greater longevity for funding projects, likening the authority’s efforts to attract grants from Whitehall to “chasing petals”. Mr Butterworth said: “When those petals fall away you are left with nothing.”

Ahead of members passing the budget, recreation management member champion Nick Cotton: “It is quite extraordinary to think this budget is 50 per cent core grant and 50 per cent self-funding. It is massively different to anything we have experienced in the past. We are into unknown territory.

“We have got a budget ahead of us this year that we can all be proud of, delivering more than we have ever done. We’re keeping an eye on how things will change for next year.”