Colchester: Budget cuts agreed in bid to save �3.6m

A COST-CUTTING budget which will see a range of public services scaled backed and grants to parish councils halved was approved by Colchester Borough Council.

It has agreed on how it will find about �3.6million worth of savings and extra income for the financial year 2011/12.

Presenting the budget, Paul Smith, Liberal Democrat cabinet member for resources and diversity, said: “These are hard times and in hard times we need to set a hard budget. Hard, but fair.

“We know the suffering that the people of Colchester are under and that’s why we are not having an increase in the council tax this year.”

He told councillors at a full meeting that the losses in Government grants faced by Colchester were “among the highest in the country”, but the council had managed to protect the most vulnerable by not reducing grants to the voluntary sector.

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“Let those with the broadest shoulders bear the biggest burden,” he said. “It does mean that beach hut owners in Mersea will have to pay more, and this has raised about half a million.”

Mr Smith said that most of the money had been found through efficiencies, rather than cuts, and highlighted the council’s fundamental service reviews of each department which were saving about �2.5m.

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Services such as making benefit claims will move online, which is cheaper to run and would provide a better service for users, Mr Smith said.

Kevin Bentley, leader of the Conservative group, criticised the budget for being “town-centric” and said that rural parishes were being unfairly targeted.

He tabled a motion to reduce the size of the cuts to parish council grants from �100,000 to �50,000.

He said there was a myth that people living in parishes were wealthy and were facing double taxation as parish councils will be forced to increase their precepts.

“There’s real anger over this issue,” he said. “People who live in rural areas have the right to services that other people have.

“If you’re an elderly person and you can’t drive and there’s no bus then you can’t go out. That’s rural deprivation.”

The opposition group leader also said that the council needed to do more to reduce the number of employees on its payroll by about 300.

An amendment was tabled to reduce management and staff by transferring some operations to trusts or independent companies.

“The council would still own the assets, but the service would have more freedom in the way it operated and would be able to apply for grants that the council cannot,” he said.

Both amendments were voted down.

Tim Young, leader of the Labour group, said: “Colchester’s Tory-free administration has put together a balanced and fair budget.”

He added that it protected most, if not all, frontline services and minimised job cuts.

Gerard Oxford, leader of the Highwoods group, said it was a budget that they could “all sign up to.”

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