North Yorkshire County Council seeks army of volunteers to perform services

The Northern Echo: RECRUITMENT CAMPAIGN: North Yorkshire County Council leader Councillor John Weighell. RECRUITMENT CAMPAIGN: North Yorkshire County Council leader Councillor John Weighell.

A COUNCIL facing up to having to save £168m will attempt to recruit an army of volunteers to ensure it can perform all its statutory duties.

North Yorkshire County Council says it wants to train teams of voluntary workers in every community across England’s largest county to provide services ranging from libraries and buses to helping the elderly.

Richard Flinton, chief executive of the authority, which is mid-way through cutting its budget by 34 per cent, said the council would provide initial funding for the creation of some volunteer teams, while others would receive ongoing support.

He said for the council to hit its target, it would need to strip back most of its services to those it legally has to provide, such as road maintenance, by 2020, seek to create more public and private partnerships and generate extra revenue where possible.

Mr Flinton added the council had cut 800 posts over the past three years and would need to cut a similar number to balance its books.

He said: “If we deliver it we can perform all the statutory responsibilities.

“We want the community to step forward and provide services with us.

“One of the strengths of North Yorkshire is that there are people who are prepared to do it.”

The council’s leader, Councillor John Weighell, said examples such as the community-run library in Great Ayton and the tourist information centre in Thirsk illustrated that volunteer-led projects could lead to services improving.

Coun Weighell said: “Most people in Great Ayton would say the library, which is being run by 80 volunteers, is working better than when the council ran it, with a bigger throughput and longer opening hours.

“There are some areas where we would expect less volunteering than others.

"The leafy market towns have a larger amount of volunteering already.”

Coun Weighell admitted creating teams of volunteers to perform key services would “take a lot of selling” to the public, but added discussions held with the voluntary sector about taking on care services had been very positive.

The announcement comes two days after Middlesbrough South MP Tom Blenkinsop told the House of Commons that the county council had been forced to increase council tax this year to secure its financial future, while other authorities faced cutting back on statutory duties.

He said: “We have gone beyond cutting into flesh, and we are now cutting into bone, as local authorities increasingly recognise.”

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