Council Cuts

Big spending cuts from one our councils have been announced which could leave hundreds of people out of work.

After hours of meetings yesterday, Suffolk County Council announced their budget for 2011/12. The budget includes £43m of savings - due to a £37m reduction from central government and increased demand for services. Suffolk County Council says less money from government means they have to save £125m over the next four years.

The council has also announced a freeze in council tax.

No increase in Suffolk County Council's share of the council tax means that people living in band D properties will continue to pay £1,126 for public services such as roads, schools and social care - just as they do now.

82% of the savings are being made by cutting management and overhead costs. This includes a recruitment and pay freeze for Suffolk County Council employees, a 30% reduction in the cost of the Council’s central department and cuts to payments for IT services provided by Customer Service Direct.

The council told Heart, this means that, whilst regrettable, just 18% (£7.65m) of the savings are being made by reducing frontline services including Household Waste Recycling Centres and school crossing patrols.

Other areas affected include libraries, the fire service and bus services.

However, Councillors say they prioritised savings by reducing running costs in order to protect frontline services as far as possible.

Tania Johnson is the headteacher at Horringer Court Middle School near Bury St Edmunds and has had to stand in as a lollypop lady because they no longer have one.

She told Heart she doesn't think it will be safe for children without the service: "The safety is paramount, I mean, as a headteacher I'm responsible for health and safety, safeguarding, every child matters - all of those things we're told to look for and deal with first and you know, if we can't get the children in the school safely, where do I stand after that? Without someone to cross those children over I can see accidents happening quite regularly all over the place. Cars now travel far faster than they should, there's more cars on the road, all of those things are just going to contribute to more accidents."

Cllr Jeremy Pembroke, Leader of Suffolk County Council, said after the meeting:

"I'm passionate about Suffolk and the people of Suffolk. The budget we've passed today has been the hardest we've ever had to set but at every meeting, discussion and debate, the long-term best interests of the most vulnerable people in Suffolk have been paramount. It’s for that very reason we have focused the cuts on bureaucracy and limited the impact on frontline public services.

I didn't enter local politics to cut public services. This situation is not of our making but we are the ones that have to face up to it and steer Suffolk through challenging times ahead.

During our consultations, communities told us they would be interested in running council services but they needed more time. We have listened. That’s why today we agreed a £1.7m transition fund to buy time for communities and the voluntary sector to come forward with proposals.

The council added that the transition fund will reduce the immediate impact of the savings and give other organisations and community groups the opportunity to take over some of Suffolk’s services. Some of this is being used, for example, to keep all youth clubs open until 23 May 2011, and to extend some school crossing patrols until July this year. Suffolk County Council says it has already welcomed offers of sponsorship for patrols and is encouraging more companies to come forward.

Cllr Jane Storey, Deputy Leader of Suffolk County Council and Portfolio Holder for Resource Management and Transformation, said:

"It’s our duty, as elected councillors responsible for investing public money, to set a realistic budget which strikes the right balance between support for local services and cost to the public purse. I feel that despite the unprecedented financial position, we have achieved this. Since 2005, Suffolk County Council has made £70m of efficiencies savings – making us the second most efficient council in the country. But that means finding further savings over the next four years is even harder for us than some other councils."

They also announced investments in new services. The Council has agreed £1m of funding for the new, £4m, Beccles Loop rail project to improve rail links from a two hourly service between Lowestoft and Ipswich to an hourly train service.

There was also a £1m investment in an Intelligent Street Lighting system which will soon see street lights in Suffolk dimmed in the early hours to save energy and reduce light pollution. The council says that the scheme will create net savings of £390,000 a year and contribute significantly to the their annual target of a 4% reduction in CO2 emissions.