The Council has a general reserve of £33m and earmarked reserves of £187 m, totalling £220m, out of a total annual expenditure across all of our budgets of almost £900 million.
Why does it have so much saved?
It is easy to look at the headline figures and to draw conclusions on the level of reserves the Council holds in isolation. The Council is a large organisation with total expenditure of almost £900m. It is the seventh largest council in England and faces a number of significant financial challenges including severe year-on-year budget cuts that need to be managed effectively though sensible financial management – one part of which is having sufficient savings to cover unanticipated costs.
The Council’s general reserve is £33M. On its own this may seem significant, however this level of reserve is sensible when considered against the overall Durham County Council budget. This reserve is set aside to cover the many unforeseen challenges and risks that the authority faces that could cause real financial concern, such as extreme weather conditions, serious incidents and one-off financial issues as well as many other events that may occur. For example, the last severe winter saw the council over-spend its winter gritting budget by £2 million – without reserves the council would have run out of money and been unable to grit the roads.
Our earmarked reserves are identified for specific uses. These reserves consist of a number of one-off funds that the Council needs to set aside to spend as costs arise. Examples include the insurance reserve, the redundancy reserve which has been needed as the number of posts at the council has reduced and the equal pay reserve.
It is important to state that as reserves are used, they are gone forever – they can only be spent once. This is why it is important that we maintain a sensible level of reserves for as long as we can.
Are reserves absolutely Necessary?
All reserves are reviewed on a regular basis to ensure they are appropriate and are considered as part of the annual review of the council carried out by external auditors.
The Council has already used over £70m of reserves since 2011/12, supporting our Medium Term Financial Planning – in the main by delaying savings and helping to implement significant changes to service provision that we have had to make Government austerity started in 2010.
When reserves are spent they are gone forever. If we use our remaining reserves to help balance the budget for one year, we would still need to find the savings the next year and the reserves would then be gone.
The section 151 Officer, the custodian of the public purse, reports to Council that the reserve levels held are adequate every time the budget is set, most recently in February 2017.
What are reserves being put aside for?
The General reserve is set aside to cover unforeseen events which could impact on the Council at any point in time. Such events could incur expenditure that is not included in the Council’s regular budget. Examples of this may include environmental risks such as extreme weather where the authority would be expected to step in and provide assistance to communities, or unplanned in-year Government funding cuts.
Earmarked reserves are set aside for specific purposes, such as providing cover for insurance claims, meeting costs of redundancy and funding service changes.
We also have a budget support reserve that we are using to smooth the savings we have to make because of cuts in Government grant to try and protect frontline services as long as we possibly can.
With austerity biting why aren’t we currently in the ‘rainy day’ that this money is put aside for.
The Council has used over £70m of reserves to support the budget. The expectation is that a further £18m will be utilised in 2017/18 to support the budget via the budget support reserve, the redundancy reserve and cash limit reserves. It is only through prudent financial planning that the Council is in a position to do this. Austerity is currently expected to last until at least 2020 and it would be folly for the council to now spend all its remaining reserves when we know that more deep cuts are still to come.
If the Council did not have adequate reserves, we would be facing a financial cliff edge – with only limited time to consider drastic decisions on service changes and even less time to consult on options with local communities. This is not a position we want to be in as a Council.
Some authorities without adequate reserves are already finding themselves in this very precarious position and are having real issues in delivering a balanced budget without impacting significantly on frontline services.
Wouldn’t reserves be better spent on Teaching Assistants
The two issues are not related – the Council cannot spend its general funding from Council Tax on Teaching Assistants who are paid out of the budgets of schools.
The review we are working on with Teaching Assistants relates to an equal pay risk that needs to be addressed. One-off reserves do not provide a long term solution to this issue.
Why couldn’t this money have been used to keep the DLI open
Reserves can be used to delay the need to achieve savings, but eventually the saving has to be made once reserves are used up.
In relation to the DLI, we are providing the service in a new and different way, including the recently opened DLI Research and Study Centre at Sevenhills near DurhamGate and the new DLI Gallery at Palace Green in Durham.
Our legal duties as a council
The Council has to set a balanced budget every year – this is a legal requirement and it is imperative that the authority does not overspend. If the Council can not demonstrate that a balanced budget can be set, the the Government can intervene and control decisions from Whitehall.
We do not believe that this would be of any benefit to the people of County Durham and it is therefore essential that our money is managed properly and responsibly.
In December, we began a full review of the role and responsibilities of Durham teaching assistants in partnership with recognised trade unions.
The review will report later in the year with recommendations and all teaching assistants will be individually consulted on the outcome.
We are fully supportive of the review and we are very hopeful that it will deliver a positive outcome.
What about previous proposals which I have read about?
The council has agreed to suspend previous proposals, pending the outcome of the review.
What is the point of this review?
The review is examining teaching assistant roles, functions, job descriptions and activities to establish whether the current job descriptions adequately describe and value the requirements of the role.
Who will be involved in the review?
A project team has been established to lead the review. The project team consists of council officers and recognised trade union representatives and is supported by a teaching assistant workstream and a head teacher workstream.
The teaching assistant workstream is made up of 15 teaching assistants who work across a variety of school settings. This group will consider the range of duties and responsibilities across the variety of teaching assistant roles to ensure this is considered throughout the review.
A Head Teacher Workstream has also been established which will support the project team and ensure the views of head teachers are incorporated as the review progresses.
How long will this take?
We are committed to progressing the review as quickly as possible, considering all of the options available. Meetings are taking place on a weekly basis.
The timescale for its completion is by the 1 September 2017.
The gallery is a partnership between Durham County Council, Durham University and the Trustees of the DLI Collection.
This new, free gallery brings the stories of the Durham soldiers to the historic heart of the city, easily accessible to hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
It showcases some items never before seen and – through interactive elements – means the voices of former servicemen can be heard.
As well as the new displays, visitors can see some old favourites from the collection.
These include the magnificent Lahore Trades Cup, uniform and medals, a wonderful engraved glass goblet dating from the early nineteenth century and a church window that was handcrafted by DLI soldiers serving overseas.
Last year, the DLI Research and Study Centre opened at Sevenhills, Spennymoor. The facility curator is available to prepare and locate any items which people may wish to see.
As well as these two new facilities, parts of the collection can also be taken out of the museums and displayed for schools, colleges and universities; communities and history groups. Taking this approach enables the collection to be seen by a much wider audience.
More of the stories and the collection are also available via the DLI Archives at Durham County Record Office.
Why was the DLI Museum closed?
There are a number of reasons, but ultimately, not enough people were visiting the facility, bringing in just 39,000 people in 2014/15.
The museum wasn’t attracting people, but the new arrangement takes the story of the regiment to many more people, who visit the cathedral. Locating the gallery in the heart of the city makes it far more accessible and easier to visit.
The Aykley Heads site required significant investment to bring displays up to date and the high standards of collections care required is incredibly expansive.
Ultimately, the building was no longer fit for purpose and a new approach was required.
The long-term preservation of the collection was of utmost importance, and against the backdrop of declining visitor numbers, the decision was made to develop the collection in a new direction, which would enhance access in a more modern way.
The new arrangements mean better care for the collection, enable research and education to flourish and allow for fresh, engaging displays to be created in accessible locations.
The County Council has enjoyed the honour of looking after the DLI collection for almost 50 years and continues to do so. The closure of the old building is sad, but it means we can ensure the DLI collection remains accessible and cared for for future generations.
Why is it only Durham closing museums?
It isn’t. We are in uncertain times for all public services – museums, as a non-statutory service, are no different.
According to the Museums Association, museums nationally have been cut by around 30% since 2010.
Local authority museums are hardest hit by savings outlined in the November 2015 spending review, given demands on funding from social care to education. The review introduced a 53% cut in local government grant from 2015-16 to 2019-20.
Working with DLI Trustees, the County Council has found an alternative way of re-imagining the collection with a reduced subsidy.
Given the huge savings required, this solution is a sensible and innovative approach, while maintaining access to this amazing collection.
Museum military collections in general are struggling, and the Army Museums Ogilvy Trust identifies Durham’s approach as an innovative and positive solution.
Will this piece of Durham-related history be lost?
No – in fact we believe that by increasing spending on collection care, creative programming and education, rather than building costs, more people than ever will enjoy the collection.
Ensuring the remarkable stories of the DLI are preserved and told remains at the forefront of the new partnership between the County Council and the DLI Trustees.
Firstly, the collection now has a spacious new research centre at Sevenhills, ideal for caring for it as well as enabling tours and research to take place. This is accompanied by a new education and outreach programme being delivered in schools and communities.
The new arrangements deliver modern and refreshed opportunities. The first of which was an annual exhibition to commemorate the Battle of the Somme. The second is the new DLI Collection Gallery: Courage, Comrades and Community. This partnership has enabled a new gallery space, modern narrative and audio visual displays, with further exhibitions planned.
What happens to the exhibits?
Some feature prominently in the new permanent exhibition at Palace Green and the medals are accessible in the Barker reading room at the facility.
Larger objects, such as the Bren Gun Carrier, on display at Locomotion, have been loaned to other museums. The Jeep is loaned to the North East Sea, Land, and Air Museum.
Sevenhills houses the Wakenshaw Gun, a bespoke plinth created to support and raise it to pride of place in the research area.
The remaining objects, if not on display, remain cared for and stored at Sevenhills in the new research and study centre, where they can be viewed, preferably by appointment.
And the collection continues to grow, collecting objects relating to the DLI as it always has – and welcomes any new support and donations.
Have you put finance before history and heritage?
No. Durham County Council and The DLI Trustees believe the new approach to the historic DLI collection places more emphasis upon history and heritage and will attract more visitors.
Ultimately, caring for these exhibits and ensuring funds are available to tell the stories are most important. If all investment is spent on buildings and utilities, we can’t spend it on exhibit care, education or modern and refreshed exhibitions.
What happens next?
We continue to support and care for the collection, making it as accessible as we can. Plans to increase digital accessibility are underway at Sevenhills, as part of a five-year project, encouraging volunteers, students and community groups to get involved.
The collection remains at the heart of the North East and plans to loan some of the collection for display to other museums continues. Tours and open days are positive ways for us to continue to promote access.
As part of the partnership with Durham University a five-year temporary exhibition programme is in progress; starting with the Somme Exhibition last year.
In addition, to Durham County Record Office (DCRO) provide an excellent service for those wishing to look at or research the DLI archive and family records.
DCRO preserves the original archives of the DLI regiment, making them available for research.
The records about the history of the regiment and its battalions span 210 years, and contain personal records of over a thousand of the officers and men who served in the DLI.
It also includes photographs, official war diaries, personal diaries and letters, journals, scrapbooks, commemorative booklets, maps and much more. You can use the archive to research:
- a person
- an event
- a military campaign or action
- a particular battalion or unit
- a location associated with the regiment, in this country or overseas.
While the archive does not contain information for every man who served in the regiment, it has a detailed online catalogue of the collection which currently includes 34,549 photographs from the DLI archive.
Please add your name to our petition to the Government.
It's time for a fair funding deal for County Durham.
Since 2010, Government cuts have been far greater in the north than the south, year after year. The scale of these cuts threatens services across County Durham. I call on the government to change its policies and provide a fair funding deal for County Durham.