North Yorkshire County Council has urged local residents to take part in its annual budget consultation as the county faces what leaders describe as "one of its greatest challenges in the Covid-19 response and recovery".
The county council, which provides services including education and adult social care in England's largest county, estimates that the pandemic will cost it an additional £82m this year from expenditure to support vulnerable residents and measures to combat Covid-19 and lost income from council tax and business rates.
When austerity measures began in 2010, the Conservative-run council projected a budget shortfall of £186m by the end of 2021/22. This position has continued to deteriorate due to pressure on the budget for children’s and young people’s services and the impact of Covid-19.
Savings of £173m have already been achieved but the authority now still needs to find a further £103m over the next three years.
It is considering increasing council tax by 1.99 per cent in 2021, equivalent to £27 a year for an average household, to fund pandemic support and recovery and priority areas, with each one per cent rise equating to £3m.
Town halls across Yorkshire have been hit hard by the pandemic, despite government efforts to compensate them for some of the expenses accrued and income lost. Leeds City Council faces a £118m budget deficit next year, around half of which is due to the pandemic.
County council leader Carl Les said: “We want North Yorkshire to be a thriving county and pride ourselves on being a well-run authority, but the funding gaps in our budget create huge uncertainty. I would encourage everyone to take part and let us know their views on our council plan priorities, setting council tax for next year and our longer term plans.”
Gary Fielding, Director of Resources at the County Council, added: “With a reduction in funding alongside a significant increase in demand for services, the enormous financial pressures we are facing will continue.
“We’re committed to Covid-19 response and recovery, managing and maintaining roads, supporting adults and older people who need help to live independently and helping to make sure children and young people have the best possible start in life.
“These are unprecedented times, but it is crucial that we are able to continue delivering the help and support that people rely on and that key services are protected despite our funding challenges.”
Meanwhile, shoppers returning to some market town high streets in North Yorkshire are set to find some council car parking charges have been suspended in a move designed to boost the local economy, while fees on other council parking places just yards away are being rigorously enforced.
Hambleton District Council's leader Councillor Mark Robson announced visitors to its car parks would not face fees until January 3 as part of its plan to help the local economy get back on its feet in the wake of Covid-19.
The York and North Yorkshre local enterprise partnership has estimated the area's economy will drop by 7.6 per cent as a result of the pandemic, equating to a decrease of £1.5bn and 31,000 individuals becoming newly unemployed.
A meeting of the authority's Cabinet heard the car parks action was among a number of practical measures being taken despite the loss of car parking charges and income from its leisure centres over the pandemic. Members were told a £1.7m black hole had opened up in the council's finances by the end of September.
Coun Robson expressed disappointment that North Yorkshire County Council had decided not to relax its charges on places such as Northallerton High Street, as has happened in numerous towns surrounding Hambleton district.
However, the county council's highways executive member, Councillor Don Mackenzie described Hambleton council's decision to suspend car parking charges as "perfect".
He said the county council's parking charges were designed to manage traffic and the move by Hambleton would provide further incentive for motorists to park away from high streets.