The leaders of a local authority which claimed local government reorganisation was likely to generate £252m of savings to pump into residents services have said achieving that financial ambition has become “massively tougher”.
And one of its early cost-saving measures will be to sell thousands of properties that are surplus to requirements.
The new North Yorkshire Council will come into being tomorrow, replacing the old county council, along with Selby, Ryedale, Harrogate, Hambleton, Scarborough, Craven and Richmondshire.
North Yorkshire County Council chief executive Richard Flinton and the authority’s political leader, Councillor Carl Les, said almost two years after using large-scale savings as a key plank in its case for creating a single unitary authority covering the largest area in the country “the world is in a different place”.
In 2021, auditors’ analysis of the county council’s unitary found it could save £30m a year by cutting red tape and reducing senior management and elected member costs.
In addition, by using the new council as a springboard for change, the auditors concluded savings could rise to between £50m and £67m a year, netting up to £252m at the end of the first five years, saving of up to £185 a year for households.
However, on the eve of the new authority launching, Mr Flinton said the council was instead looking at needing to cut £70m over the next three years just to balance its books and achieving savings had become “massively tougher”.
He said: “Since those predictions were first made the councils have made a lot of savings themselves that would have been in that territory. Lots of demand pressures have changed. Austerity has come around the cost of living pressures, the price we are paying for things has increased massively.
“The world is a different place from two years ago where people were making projections using consultants around the art of the possible. The reality against more people having problems looking after kids, more people presenting wanting adult social care, more of the housing challenges such as mould, the world doesn’t stand still.
“Against that backdrop we’re saying we need to save £70m over the next three years. We are going to be honest with people and say that’s not going to be a breeze.”
Relying on volunteers
The county council has stripped £200m from its annual spending since austerity hit in 2010, partly by relying on volunteers to help run services such as public libraries.
Mr Flinton said: “As we come under more and more financial stress that type of innovative dealing with the public is probably going to be more and more.”
One of the new unitary council’s early cost-cutting programmes will be to sell some of the former district, borough and county council properties, which equate to more than 3,500 bits of property excluding schools.
When selling the properties Mr Flinton said the council would have regard to the interests of the community and in some cases the property could be used in a regeneration scheme, but in the majority of cases it would be “good old fashioned case back into the bank and value for money”.
The incoming council aims to bolster its online offer, but has pledged face to face contact with residents would continue with a council office kept in each of the former district areas.
Cllr Les said: “As soon as we put any one of those properties up for closure you can bet your bottom dollar there will be a campaign to save it.”