Beds cuts after spending review

22 October 2010, 16:19 | Updated: 24 October 2010, 09:38

The belt tightening begins in Beds as police and public bodies seek to live in straightened times.

Richard Howitt MEP has hit out at the cuts in Bedfordshire - telling heart "The cuts are too hard and are coming too fast claimed the county’s Euro MP Richard Howitt today speaking out after the Comprehensive Spending Review cuts were announced. The cuts are unnecessary economically and put the economic recovery in Bedfordshire at risk as well as being socially divisive. "
Richard Howitt MEP said: “We already know that Bedford Borough Council is cutting 200 jobs. Bedfordshire Police face a £4 million cut leading to fears of rising crime and less police out on the street and that some Bedford Borough Council leisure facilities will close earlier.
“There is nothing fair about these cuts. Today’s announcement on housing means Bedfordshire tenants will live in fear. In one of the most unaffordable places to buy or rent in the country, council tenants will be placed on 'flexible tenancies' with councils checking whether a change in circumstances mean they can stay in their home or will be moved on. But circumstances change all the time – and if you are going through a divorce or bereavement in the family you could find yourself on the streets." 

Alastiar Burt, the MP for North East Bedfordshire says:

“I know many of my constituents were very concerned about what effect the Comprehensive Spending Review would have on local services and the benefits they receive; in particular I received a petition from the Biggleswade & District Pensioners Association, signed by 150 people, concerned about cuts to the Winter Fuel Allowance. I am delighted that the Coalition Government has not only been able to preserve these crucial payments to pensioners but is also making Cold Weather Payments permanently available to those that need them most.

"The Coalition Government has had to make some tough decisions on welfare and waste but this has allowed us to prioritise NHS, schools, security and the infrastructure that will help our economy grow.

"Many families locally are concerned about cuts to early years education and support and I am pleased that the Chancellor has been able to commit £7.2 billion to help the poorest families; including a premium to support the most disadvantaged school pupils and an extension of free early education and care for disadvantaged 2 year olds.

"The Spending Review has also announced £1.5 billion for the Equitable Life Payments Scheme – four times the amount originally proposed – which will provide full compensation for the policyholders who suffered most from their losses. The Coalition Government has always been committed to making fair and transparent payments to Equitable Life policyholders and I am particularly pleased to see a commitment to the payment scheme that strikes a fair balance between the interests of policyholders and those of taxpayers in the current difficult circumstances.

"Local authorities have also been given more freedom over how money is spent and I look forward to working with Local Councillors to ensure that where tough decisions have to be made, Councils look hard at the choices open to them and that any reductions are directed as carefully as possible.”

Central Bedfordshire Council have told heart at least 100 jobs will go and have to make savings of around £36m over 3 years. Councillor Maurice Jones is the resources portfolio holder at the council - and says "It is across the council - all departments will be affected, it's right across the board. These are jobs we've only just identified, not jobs we've previously declared redundant".

The Authority say in order to reach those savings they would have to (on the 2nd of November meeting) vote to accept (highlights):

* Reduce members from 66 to 59 to save £80,000 on allowances.

* Reduce the number of social care staff who arrange adult social care support for older people and those with disabilities/learning difficulties. Saving £150,000 in 2011/12

* Currently spend 16.57 million on residential placements for the disabled. Some of these are organised by the individual and can be high cost. Council will commission an agency to challenge individual placement costs - especially high cost ones. Try to do more block purchasing and reduce high costs. Estimated saving of £500,000 in first year.

* Turn off street lights between 0000-0600 - save £50,000 per year BUT it would cost £135,000 per year for 3 years to implement.

* Parking permits - raise price to £50 per year in line with neighbouring authorities, and an increased fee for 2nd and 3rd vehicles registered to an address (£70 second £90 third).

* Corporate buildings. 13 leased buildings can be vacated over next 4 financial years.

* Youth services - fewer council provision and more volunteering for youth services - focussing on the "truly vulnerable".

* Remove the council's contribution to the music service with a view to full cost recharge on all activity offered to schools or parents.

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Bedford Borough Council has already made £2.5million of savings as a result of in year cuts in funding from the Government. Meanwhile, the council has been working hard to identify proposals to save more than £10 million for next year's budget by transforming the way the council operates.

Funding to provide council services comes from Central Government, income generation and local council tax. The announcement from the government looks set to cut the funding given to councils across the country by 28% over the next four years. The council is introducing many initiatives to save money, and is particularly looking to make savings on back office costs wherever possible. However, the scale of the challenge means that other tough decisions to bridge the funding gap will have to be considered

Bedford Borough Mayor, Dave Hodgson, said:

“I want residents to know that I will be ruthless in cutting out waste and fighting to protect frontline services. But there is no doubt that dealing with these funding cuts will be a significant task.

"With local people under their own financial pressures, we have been working hard to deliver a freeze on council tax and prioritise frontline services. We’ve already found over £2.5million of savings following in year government cuts. In addition, we were one of the first authorities in the country to launch a public consultation on proposals for next year's budget.

"As well as improving the way we work these plans could save us more than £10million so that we can deliver a budget that protects services and enables us to meet our aim of freezing council tax for local residents.

“My priorities are to cut costs within the council infrastructure, squeeze out greater efficiency, and deliver services in new ways that will make the money go further.”

Cllr Michael Headley, Finance Portfolio Holder added:

“Ever since last year’s budget was agreed we have been looking at ways to transform and protect the services that the council provides and deliver a budget for 2011/12 that freezes council tax. Following this announcement we remain committed to this aim .We have to balance the budget and it will take some imaginative and robust decisions to achieve this with this scale of reduction in funding from the government.”