£30m cuts 'will not harm services'

THE new Suffolk County Council leader last night insisted public services would not suffer as he prepared to press ahead with a £30million package of spending cuts.

THE new Suffolk County Council leader last night insisted public services would not suffer as he prepared to press ahead with a £30million package of spending cuts.

Although the savings were drawn-up by the previous Labour and Liberal Democrat administration, the recently elected Conservative authority says it will to continue the belt tightening to peg back council tax rises.

Around £8.5m of the cuts will be made in adult social care – a move that has worried pensioner groups across the region.

More than £5m will be saved from the transport budget, while nearly £3m will be slashed from corporate services.

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But council leader Jeremy Pembroke said: "It is important that we keep the standard of services in Suffolk at a high level.

"We will be working very hard in co-operation with district councils to see where we can cut costs without affecting the services that are provided."

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The concentrated squeeze came to light after all local authorities were asked to submit efficiency review plans to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in Whitehall.

Suffolk is planning to make £30,457,000 worth of savings between 2005-2006 with 53% of these coming from public services.

It means the administration is making the most savings of any other county council in the country when compared to its overall budget - which stands at £776million.

Mr Pembroke said that a joint venture to create a customer service centre with Mid Suffolk District Council and BT had already proved successful and hoped that other district councils would soon follow suit.

"I've spent a lot of time talking with district councils and will be meeting with them shortly to see what we can do together to reduce duplication and become more efficient.

"This will produce long term savings that are vital if we are going to try and keep council tax rises as low as possible.

"It is not going to be easy because with the General Election out of the way I don't think we will get as generous a financial settlement from the Government as the previous administration but that makes these savings even more important."

Jane Midwood, portfolio holder for adult care and community services, said that a number of schemes had already been outlined to improve care.

"One of the things that we are hoping to do in partnership with the district councils is self assessment," she added. "If for example an elderly person feels that they need help they can just call one dedicated phone line and someone will be with them as soon as possible.

"Whereas before they would have to contact social welfare and fill in lots of forms – which amounts to a fairly lengthy process - this will cut down the red tape and ensure that they are dealt with quickly and at minimum cost.

"We are also be trying to provide more respite care for the elderly in their own homes because we think it is something which will work well in Suffolk."

However Daphne Savage, chief executive of Age Concern Suffolk, said that she was worried by the large increase in the savings expected for social care.

"I agree with all the emphasis on preventative work to keep people well and healthy and living in their own homes," she said. "However there still needs to be enough money to look after a small percentage, though considerable number, of older people who need significant support and care in the last few years of their life."

She confirmed she would be most concerned with ensuring there is sufficient specialist care and support for the frailest people, particularly those with dementia.

Annie Stevenson, senior policy advisor for health and social care at Help the Aged, said: "Adult social care is already grossly under-funded. The government has committed a 2.7% increase by 2007/8 in adult social care.

"Any suggestion of further cuts is unrealistic and going against the grain of what the government is saying. It is grossly unjust to older people.

"While I understand where Suffolk is coming from – the move from residential care to supporting people in their own homes – it is all about managing that transition.

"They are cutting funding for adult social care at their peril. Already social care is the Cinderella sector compared to health and the NHS.

"While we support choice for older people, independence and autonomy, we are really concerned for people with high care needs and the risk of people becoming isolated in their homes."

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