Park grant cut fears allayed as Defra hands over £10m

FEARS the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) would fall victim to government spending cuts have been allayed.

The opening of Cobbett's View, a project carried out in the national park by volunteers
The opening of Cobbett's View, a project carried out in the national park by volunteers

DEFRA has announced the park will receive a grant of £9,963,000 - an increase of 1.7 per cent and has confirmed there will be further 1.7 per cent increases for the next four years.

Chief finance officer Nigel Manvel told a full meeting of the authority, Defra had faced ‘significant budget cuts’ in last year’s government spending review.

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He feared the worst next year and felt it was wise to build ‘some flexibility’ into spending plans when preparing the park’s own 2016-17 budget to cope with possible funding cuts.

But following a government announcement that national parks grants would be protected from cuts, the SDNPA is to receive just short of £10m in the new financial year - an increase of £168,000 compared to this year.

Mr Manvel said the park’s medium term financial strategy had been updated to reflect the increased grant allocations: “The strategy will continue to seek flexibility in the overall budget while continuing to fund short term and one-off projects, identify savings, maximise potential income opportunities and provide flexibility for its partnership management plan.”

He said the SDNPA’s 2016-17 budget includes a permanent staffing establishment of 107.1 full time posts.

It also provided funding for 4.8 full time equivalent temporary posts for the to cover short term projects.

Temporary staff will help communities to carry out work on their neighbourhood plans and posts will be allocated to the major forestry project being undertaken.

Mr Manvel said volunteering time was a ‘valuable resource’ to the park and it was estimated that in 2016-17 around 6,000 days of voluntary work would be carried out at an estimated value of £330,000.

The park has earmarked £3.7m for planning services including staffing, payments to other authorities for carrying out planning in the park and work on completing the long overdue Local Plan.

It has earmarked £2.807m for countryside management and another £2.691m for corporate functions including premises costs and funding outsourced services such as IT and legal services.

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