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NATIONAL PARK FORCED INTO BUDGET CUTS

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The Lake District National Park Authority meets today to decide on budget cuts, which may mean the closure of six t...
The Lake District National Park Authority meets today to decide on budget cuts, which may mean the closure of six tourist centres.

The authority's chairman David Thornton told BBC Radio Four's Today programme this morning: 'Last year was a difficult year for tourism, our income was down we have a reduced grant for the next two years and we have increased costs.'

While the authority's core work would continue, 'we're likely to close a number of visitor centers,' he said.

Councillor Stan Collins, a member of the National Parks Authority board, said all national parks were in financial straits because DEFRA grants had not kept pace with inflation.

The situation had got worse with the creation of the new national park last year, in the New Forest. 'DEFRA have got to think very hard what do they want from national parks, because they don't seem to know,' Mr Collins said. 'They have spread the same money over the new national park as well, which has made life a lot more difficult for the existing ones.'

Following today's meeting the Lake District National Park Authority issued the following statement.

BUDGET SAVINGS AND CLOSURES CONFIRMED

Plans to rescue the Lake District National Park Authority's budget - by possibly closing information centres and reducing staffing levels - have been approved by the authority's emergency committee today.

The decision follows an extensive consultation exercise with unions and staff, which began last December after members recommended a range of options designed to help the authority overcome its serious budget shortfall for the coming year.

The money-saving suggestions included:

--not immediately filling any jobs that become vacant

--putting 29 posts at risk of redundancy

--seeking funding from Cumbria CC for parts of our rights of way work;

--reducing the amount of money spent on an information centre service to£250,000 at just Keswick, Bowness and Ullswater, so saving£320,000 with the closures of Grasmere, Hawkshead and Coniston;

--making savings of£80,000 from our property budgets

--making salary savings of£25,000 from the communications team

--saving£15,000 from information and communication technology budgets

LDNPA chairman David Thornton said the consultation period had given everyone the time to appreciate the seriousness of the financial situation currently facing the Lake District and many other national parks.

It had also emphasised the need for the authority to concentrate its limited resources on core activities like looking after the landscape and the environment. In future the authority should not be distracted into areas of business that other organisations were better placed to deliver.

Costs, such as salaries, pensions and national insurance, were increasing. Income, from tourist sources such as car parking and leisure charges, was falling. And the major government grant from Defra, - which is about£6m for the LDNPA - is being frozen with not even an inflation-based increase.

'People have suggested a variety of alternative ideas during the consultation period, and I'm very grateful for their enthusiastic commitment to the national park. But none of the alternatives came close to producing the kind of savings we need to make to reduce our budget by£1m for the year 2007/8.

'Now the decisions have been made, we must all work hard to go forward in a new look streamlined organisation designed to cope with our new financial surroundings. At the same time we will continue to do all we can to help and support individuals and local communities affected by the difficult decisions we have taken today,' Mr Thornton added.

Notes

1. We have said publicly since the beginning of 2005 that we face difficulties with our finances, and that shortfalls between our income and expenditure could rise to£850,000 by the financial year 2007/8. With confirmation of our grant from Defra over the next two years being at standstill we have revised this estimate to a shortfall of nearer£1m.

2. More information about the national park and the authority's work on our website www.lake-district.gov.uk http:www.lake-district.gov.uk

3. The Lake District is one of 14 national parks. The others are: Brecon Beacons, the Cairngorms, Dartmoor, Exmoor, Loch Lomond and Trossachs, Northumberland, North York Moors, Peak District, Pembrokeshire Coast, Snowdonia, the Yorkshire Dales, the Broads and the New Forest.

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