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Page last updated at 15:32 GMT, Monday, 22 February 2010
Tough times and budget cuts ahead for Devon councils
Chris Whipp
By Chris Whipp
BBC Radio Devon correspondent

Plymouth Civic Centre
Plymouth City Council leaders expect a lot of changes ahead

"Protect the front line, cut the back office."

It's the mantra coming from town halls across Devon as the county's local authorities prepare for widely predicted tough financial times ahead.

All three of Devon's top-tier councils: Devon, Plymouth and Torbay, say things can only get worse as they deal with a unique combination of adverse economic conditions.

The councils are facing a toxic mixture which is creating a huge strain.

A library
Library services could be in the firing line

It's a cocktail of reduced funding from central government; less cash coming in from money-earners such as parking; and increasing demand for things like housing benefit as a result of the poor economic climate.

Add to that a poor rate of return on investments and you have a 'perfect storm': a local government finance chief's nightmare.

Faced with the gathering storm, Devon's councils drew up tight budgets for 2010-11 which recognise the fact that worse is to come.

Front-line services; the 'must do' things like children's social services and adult social care were protected.

But that means that 'nice to do' discretionary services like some school and college transport services or arts funding face bigger possible cutbacks.

Even one of the cornerstones of local government, the library service, is under review.

County Hall
County Hall leaders say things will be "really tight"

In preparing their 2010-11 budgets, Devon's councils were mindful of the future.

Barry Keel, chief executive of Plymouth City Council, said: "In the next five years local government in general, and Plymouth in particular, will look very different from how it is now."

And Devon County Council leader, John Hart, said: "It's going to be really tight.

"The people of Devon will get less services, unfortunately they'll still probably have to pay more money."

Responding to the BBC's 'Facing the Cuts' survey, Torbay Council said it expects to have between 20-25% less to spend in three to five years' time, while Cllr Hart, believes the county council will have up to 10% less.

The BBC in the South West is taking an in-depth look at the issue of local government funding and the likely impact locally of possible cutbacks.



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