December 12 2013 Latest news:
Saturday, October 5, 2013
Help us find £50 million in savings!
That’s the blunt message going out to households around the county as the Suffolk councillors prepare their next budget to come into force next year.
The county council is facing the prospect of having to make cuts of £156 million in its budget over the next four years – but leader Mark Bee remains hopeful it will be able to make the changes without a significant reduction in services.
However he does expect to see more changes in the way services are delivered – as more private companies or “social enterprises” take on work that has traditionally been done by councils.
To try to find out what the people of Suffolk want from the county, the council is preparing to launch a major survey of households.
Polling organisation MORI will be sending questionnaires to more than 4,000 households across Suffolk to try to find what the priority is for residents – the council is hoping to get at least 1,100 responses.
Later in the autumn there will be a series of budget consultation meetings for members of the public. The result of these consultations will be fed in as the council starts to draw up the budget for 2014/15 which will first be discussed by the scrutiny committee at the end of this year.
And looking further ahead, Mr Bee accepts that there will be more major changes facing the county council.
He said: “We are looking at making savings of £156 million over the next four years. We would like to weigh these savings to the start of that period.
“It sounds a huge sum, but it needs to be set against the fact that we will be spending about £3 billion over that period.
“I’ve always felt it is very important to discuss changes like this openly and to involve the public as early as possible.”
Mr Bee said that in the longer term, the council would be looking at increasing its partnerships with other authorities and other bodies, both in the public and the private sector.
He would be happy to see the council sharing its Endeavour House headquarters with neighbouring Ipswich borough – and was looking at making changes at Constantine House once the contract with Customer Service Direct finished in May next year.
The MORI survey is costing the council £13,000 – which the county sees as a reasonable price for what it believes will be valuable data.
A council spokesman pointed out that consultation meetings tended to be self-selecting, whereas an independent survey could get a wider range of views.
Deputy leader of the opposition Bryony Rudkin said she was aware many people were worried about the level of services the county would be able to offer in the future.
“I’m not sure that a MORI survey at this stage is that useful. The information is out there from the Office of National Statistics.”
She was concerned that surveys often showed up that people wanted investment in the services they used – while there were statutory services that have to provided whatever the public says.
“It might be better to ask people for their views at a later stage in the process when some clear proposals have been produced,” she said.