Council row over £24m cuts

SUFFOLK'S Tories were accused last night of voting through cuts to the county's social care budget while cynically embarking on a massive public relations campaign to spin their way out of the “dire consequences for many of our most vulnerable people.

By Graham Dines

SUFFOLK'S Tories were accused last night of voting through cuts to the county's social care budget while cynically embarking on a massive public relations campaign to spin their way out of the “dire consequences for many of our most vulnerable people.”

Labour's Bryony Rudkin was leading the opposition to cuts in council spending of around £24 million - two-thirds in social care - designed to overcome a reduction in Government grant which will result in next year's 4.5% increase in council tax.

Mrs Rudkin pointed to inconsistencies in the council's approach to older people, saying: “In one document we read: `As people now retire at varying ages, their expectations differ. We want to support them in making choices and meeting their aspirations but we also need to ensure services are provided when necessary.'

“Contrast this with budget papers which state that to deliver the required savings, service closures will be needed which may mean that some people will no longer be eligible for services.

“In plain English, this means many older people will be without day services,” said Mrs Rudkin, who mocked the Tory administration's confession that the change of approach will need “excellent public relations.”

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She said the budget would end partnership working with outside bodies because of the cost, whether it was with the Princes Trust wanting to make a difference to the lives of young people or Suffolk Development Agency seeking to support businesses in the county.

Deputy Labour leader Julian Swainson described the council's spending plans as “not a budget for the future - it is the start of a closing down sale.”

He criticised wasting £500,000 on preparatory work for the Brandon and A12 villages by-passes which would struggle for Government funding and the cut in support for the Real Nappy campaign, designed to educate parent against disposable nappies, one of the biggest components of landfill sites.

For the Liberal Democrats, Kathy Pollard sympathised with the Tories for having to make cuts because of a poor grant from Whitehall.

However, she said some of the savings proposed would impact heavily on the weakest in society. “If you had added another 0.3% to the tax rise, you would have raised £600,000 to protect services for people with learning difficulties.”

Jane Storey, portfolio holder for resources and finance, blamed the Government for putting Suffolk in an impossible position by giving Suffolk a net grant increase of just £1.4m.

“In presenting a budget with a bottom line of only 4.5% despite a devastating grant settlement from the Labour government, we have stuck to our manifesto commitment to keep the council tax rise as low as we can,” she said.

“We were left with tough decisions where to make budget savings and we have tried to protect the very vulnerable in our care.”

The county council agreed to cuts of around £24m, including £14.529m in adult care and community services, £3.275m from the children and young people's budget, and £3.843m from environment and transport.

In adult care, £10.2m will come from rationalising the 450 different day care providers and awarding block contracts, but the council admits that it may be necessary “as a last resort” to reduce the number of care packages.

Councillors approved a budget of £371,130m, excluding education and schools which receive money direct from Whitehall. Government grants cut the amount to be raised from householders to £244.351m, resulting in a council tax for Band D properties of £990.63, an increase of 82p a week.

On top of this, householders have to pay for district services, the police authority, and - with the exception of Ipswich - town or parish precepts.

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