The politician charged with ensuring a range of key services are maintained for North Yorkshire’s 618,000 residents has warned unless the authority strips back £25m of annual costs its ability to fulfil a range of economic goals will be significantly curtailed.
North Yorkshire Council’s executive member for finance Councillor Gareth Dadd issued the alert as the authority’s executive met to consider pushing forward the recently launched unitary council’s first economic strategy.
The meeting heard the five-year plan was set to be launched next year and aim to support business growth, key sector development, generating inward investment and prioritising regeneration while improving infrastructure and connectivity.
Executive members were told the vision is to be “an innovative, carbon negative economy driven by our productive and entrepreneurial business base and the places and communities that make North Yorkshire distinctive”.
Coun Dadd, who is also the authority’s deputy leader, said as moves to consider next year’s budget were getting underway, even with grant funding for some of the economic development opportunities the council was pursuing it would still need to financially support the schemes.
Referring to the strategy, he said: “It is a salutary reminder of the importance of us getting our revenue budget in ship-shape order for us to make choices over some of the priorities that this document will produce.”
After the meeting, Coun Dadd said the council was set to make “substantial in-roads” into the £25m black hole in the coming months, with authority prioritising making operational efficiencies, while not ruling out cuts to services.
He emphasised while creating the unitary authority had presented savings opportunities, many councils across the country were facing “immense financial challenges”.
He said: “If we don’t sort the revenue budget out and continue taking from reserves then our ability to fulfil the economic development plan will be rapidly diminished because we will not have the reserves to support it.
“The first station of this train journey has to be to have a sustainable revenue budget which will then lead to council tax cuts or investment in services.
“Clearly that puts us in a great position to make those choices and if we do decide to invest then we need to prioritise that as well. There is no running away from it – everything is underpinned by the revenue budget.”
The authority’s recurring annual deficit is forecast to have fallen by about £5m since the start of the financial year, partly as a result of having increased buying power following the merger of eight councils.
Coun Dadd added: “Our priority will always be efficiencies in operations rather than service cuts. We are looking at back office first and the premium from unitary is there to be taken. It won’t all come at once.
“I can’t guarantee there won’t be service changes, but as long as I have a breath in my body and in the position I am, the influence I have got will be used to protect services for vulnerable people.”