Council could face '£25m cutbacks'

SUFFOLK may have to slash county council spending by around £25m next year after fears were voiced of another poor grant settlement from the Government.

By Graham Dines

SUFFOLK may have to slash county council spending by around £25m next year after fears were voiced of another poor grant settlement from the Government.

The Conservative-controlled county is bracing itself for a repeat of this year, when even a 4.5% rise in council tax left it having to cut its budget by more than £24m - including £14.5m in the social care budget.

It has resulted in a raft of service reductions, including the high-profile axing of many day care centre places for the vulnerable and elderly throughout the county.

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Now it is feared further cuts could be needed if the Government settlement for next year falls short.

Jeremy Pembroke, county council leader, said yesterday: “Starving councils of resources is clearly unsustainable. If the Government does not wake up, there will be a social care crisis across the country.”

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In a pre-emptive strike to any possible cutbacks, and also to the potential reorganisation of local government in 2009, the county council and Suffolk's seven district authorities have now pledged to cut costs by merging a number of services they provide.

Mr Pembroke said the county's initiative was “about delivering better services at lower cost”.

He explained: “We have decided to share `back office' functions such as legal services, asset management, communications, IT, human resources, procurement, and emergency planning.

“In both Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft, we are to share offices with the local district. But it would be an utter nonsense to do so if we did not have a common IT system.”

Suffolk Tories have pledged to protect those on fixed incomes by not raising council tax way above inflation and have also promised that any job cuts due to the merging of services will be managed as far as possible by redeployment.

However, Mr Pembroke said the big debate had to be with the Government. He said: “Half of Suffolk's population is under 50 - the other 50% is aged 50 and over.

“Suffolk has an aging population. We have to gear our services to them but we cannot if the Government will not give us the resources.

“It is a nonsense that we can get permission to borrow money to maintain our roads, but we cannot to provide social care.

“The Government this year showed its commitment to young people by increasing its grant to schools in the county by 6.5% while giving the remainder of our services only an extra 2%.”

Mr Pembroke claimed the crisis began when the Government diverted resources away from councils in the south and east to those in the north and midlands.

The gap had never been made up, leaving shire authorities such as Suffolk struggling to provide services for and increasingly elderly population.

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