Anger over cuts at county hall
PLANS to cut services and jobs at Conservative-controlled Essex County Council have been furiously attacked by Labour politicians at County Hall, who have accused the Tories of returning to a "disgraced Thatcherite ideology.
By Roddy Ashworth
PLANS to cut services and jobs at Conservative-controlled Essex County Council have been furiously attacked by Labour politicians at County Hall, who have accused the Tories of returning to a "disgraced Thatcherite ideology."
The EADT revealed yesterday that the council's cabinet was preparing to take "tough decisions" in coming months, reportedly in order to avoid presenting Essex residents with yet another significant rise in council tax next year.
But the Labour Party yesterday insisted there was no need for a redundancy programme and that any decision should be left until November or December when the amount of cash coming from central Government would be known.
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The council officially confirmed yesterday that results of a three-month investigation and review were to go before the cabinet on July 8, and that job cuts had not been ruled out.
A detailed round of consultation will follow, but plans under consideration include:
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n selling off the council's 12 remaining old peoples' homes;
n cutting the school transport budget and spending less on offsetting the cost of school uniforms;
n slicing £1 million from the Environment, Heritage and Culture budget;
n making savings from the Enterprise budget.
Also facing budget cuts will be the Human Resources department, the Finance and Performance Group and the council's communications team.
The council is also looking at working more closely with the private, public and voluntary sectors and raising cash through selling some of the property it owns.
Yesterday a statement issued by Lord Hanningfield, leader of the county council, said: "Following a Government review of grant distribution last year, revisions to the formula meant that Essex County Council received the lowest increase of any county for 2003 – 2004, of only 3.75%. Grant funds two-thirds of our spending.
"Spending pressures rose much faster, so the council tax, which bridges the gap, had to rise by 16.7%.
"Since the formula will not now change, we can expect relatively low grant increases in future."
He added the priorities of the council included reducing road congestion, keeping council tax low, relieving pressures on teachers, helping the elderly stay in their own homes, and resisting excessive new housing and airport expansion in Essex.
Improving the environment and raising standards for children and young people were also targets.
He added: "The next stage will be to work up the details of this new business focus. There will be more tough decisions and things that are unwelcome all round.
"While we are not going out of our way to seek redundancies, these cannot be ruled out, and will be handled in line with normal personnel policy."
But yesterday Labour hit out at the plans. Neil Spurgeon, the party's deputy leader at county hall, said: "The Tories are planning a number of drastic cuts across a range of vital services.
"We will vigorously defend service provision and do not accept the need for the Tory redundancy programme.
"Decisions of this nature should not be made until November/December 2003 when next year's budget figures will be known.
"It is outrageous to scaremonger about employees' jobs and crucial services five months before the settlement announcement is due.
"It is clear to the Labour Group that the Tories intend to axe important Essex services in a return to an old and disgraced Thatcherite ideology."