Bosses of the Yorkshire Dales National park Authority say sweeping cutbacks will be needed “across the board”, including to some of its key priorities, to balance its books following coronavirus and lockdown restrictions.
Just six weeks after the authority approved its budget for the coming year, to deliver what its members described as an ambitious programme of initiatives, its chief executive David Butterworth said falling income had forced it to pull back on many of the goals.
Lockdown in April alone saw the authority lose £90,000 due to the closure of car parks, and it has been projected with its national park centres and the Dales Countryside Museum having to remain closed for some time due to social distancing issues, its earned income could drop by £737,000.
While councils across England will receive £3.2bn to help them to deal with the immediate impacts of coronavirus, the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has advised national park authorities not to expect a handout and instead make use of the government’s furlough scheme, cut programmes planned for this year and use their reserves.
Ahead of members meeting next week to consider a series of proposed changes to the park authority’s work this year, Mr Butterworth said: “We have tried to protect the authority’s priority programmes, but there has had to be cuts right across the board in terms of what we are doing.”
Some £650,000 of flood repair work is needed in the Swaledale area left devastated last July, but the authority says much of this work will have to be delayed as will implementing a major education programme. Planning has been made all the more difficult with the uncertainty surrounding its income.
For example, the impact of reopening the car parks remains unknown.
With the falling incomes, a lower-than-expected Defra grant and a higher than expected staff pay award, the authority is now planning to use £820,000 of its reserves to balance the books as well as making a host of savings.
These will include £170,000 from national park centres, £40,000 less on the high return volunteer programme as they are struggling to get into the park, £100,000 less on land management and biodiversity initiatives, £25,000 less on historic environment conservation and £50,000 less on maintaining rights of way.
Mr Butterworth said: “This is a big deal. It is what we are here for.”
He added he would be surprised if making redundancies became necessary this year, but due to the rapidly changing situation, expected a need for at least one more revised budget.