Devon starts work on budget 2009/10

THE process of setting a new budget for vital public services in Devon -- from schools to roads and care for elderly to libraries -- begins in earnest on January 2.....

THE process of setting a new budget for vital public services in Devon -- from schools to roads and care for elderly to libraries -- begins in earnest on 2 January when Devon County Council's Cabinet, the Executive Committee, meets in Exeter for preliminary discussions about the authority's target budget for 2009/10.

Devon County Council provides over 85% of the public's local council services and its £1.1 billion budget funds schools, roads, care services, libraries, children and young people's services, libraries, recycling centres, street lighting, public transport, economic development, housing, consumer protection and environment services for over 750,000 people in Devon.

After a tough financial settlement from central Government which has proved particularly hard for Devon's eight District Councils, 2009/10 will be a real test of the County Council's continuing capacity to provide and improve good quality public services, make further efficiency savings and minimise the impact on Council Tax.

Devon County Council is once again also asking the public to have their say in setting a new budget for Devon by identifying the local issues and spending priorities that matter most to them.

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Each year, prior to budget setting, the County Council involves the public, the business community and other special interest groups in consultation to help the Council decide their spending priorities for the coming year.

A series of consultation meetings are planned throughout January with special interest groups and the public can register their opinions via the Council's website,

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The Council will finally decide its budget, and the level of Council Tax needed to fund it on 19 February, so contributions to the consultation are welcome until then.

In the meantime, the Council will have preliminary discussions about their budget for 2009/10 at their first meeting of their Executive Committee in the new year, Friday 2 January.

All Councils have received notification of their provisional financial settlements, which give an early indication of how much funding they are likely to receive from Government next year.

While Devon County Council's grant from the Government will provisionally rise by 5.5%, there is a smaller increase in the provisional grant to fund Devon's schools , meaning overall Devon's position has not greatly improved from 2008/09.

Devon's funding remains low compared to other authorities. This year Devon is likely to receive £41 per person less than the average for English counties, which amounts to £31 million less funding for public services across the Devon.

At the same time the Government has made it clear to Councils that it expects to see council tax rises substantially below 5%.

As council tax is one of the main sources of funding for County Council services then the annual cap on council tax is another financial pressure that includes the impact of low interest rates, increasing demand for services and volatile prices for many basic commodities. The County Council is also mindful of the impact of the economic down-turn on the people of Devon and is aiming to try to keep its Council Tax increase low.

Against this backdrop all Councils are facing financially difficult times ahead and must continue to make sure that its services are as efficient as possible. The Council has a good record of making efficiency savings an in 2008/09 it is on target to make efficiency savings of just over £14.6 millions.

Devon County Council's Leader, Cllr Brian Greenslade, said:

"Budget setting is always difficult, but this year even more so because of the additional pressures of the economic downturn. Devon continues to receive a poor deal from central Government in terms of the share of the national grant which is distributed to counties. It has also been a tough year for our colleagues in the county's District Councils. In the context of the current economic downturn there is clearly a pressing additional need for local government to reduce its costs to tax-payers and businesses whilst at the same time further improving the efficiency of public services and stepping up support for the local economy. We expect to make considerable savings in 2009/10 as well.

"Clearly we will have to balance the need to protect vital services the public need, while keeping Council Tax down.

"This year we want to hear from members of the public to tell us what they think Devon County Council's priorities should be.

"The county faces increasing demand for adults' social care for example, as people are living longer and the growing number of people with disabilities who are also living longer. There's also growing demand for services for children and young people to address the needs of increasing numbers of vulnerable children.

"We also need to plan for changing legislation such as the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme, which affects waste disposal costs.

"Throughout January, we will be talking to the business community, representatives of older people, voluntary organisations and Trade Unions, about the Council's spending priorities.

"Once we have received notification of our actual, rather than provisional, financial settlement from Government at the end of January, and armed with the feedback from the public and special interest groups, then we will be able to set a new budget that best meets people's needs.

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