Council’s warning to revamp sceptics

A SENIOR Suffolk county councillor last night defended the council’s decision to “divest” its services – and told sceptics of the cuts to “wake up and smell the roses”.

Colin Noble, portfolio holder for adult and community services, told how with the impending government spending review, the council was left with two options – either make cuts or increase council tax.

“Let’s be clear,” he said. “Suffolk has to save money, there is no two ways about that and there is only two ways to make it happen. One is to make cuts and find ways of doing things differently and the other is to increase council tax. That is the choice.

“We know that with people on fixed incomes, an increase in council tax will hurt them and their ability to put food on the table, and they are then more likely to need to use services.

“But when people say you are only doing this to save money, they need to wake up and smell the roses. The cuts are coming and they will be big.”

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Councillors last week voted 52-11 to approve moves towards introducing the new strategic direction. Eventually this could lead to all council services being sold off or transferred to businesses, charities or “social enterprise bodies”.

However, last night Mr Noble admitted the new direction was a “concept” and that the council was stepping into the unknown.

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“I do not think that any of us know precisely what is going to happen in the future,” he said.

“But we are confident that we are prepared and whatever the government announce with the spending review then we have thought of the implications and are prepared.”

One of the visions of the new direction is for communities to do things for themselves and for volunteers to take on more responsibilities.

“It is around how we work with communities so they can do things for themselves and be empowered,” said Mr Noble.

“When people have ownership of something and are involved in something it is more powerful. It is the change from the nanny state to the big society.”

Mr Noble also said one of the big misconceptions about the plans was that big private companies would be coming into the county to provide services. “If you look at our relationships currently, although there are some national companies, most are local,” he said.

Kathy Pollard, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “As far as I can see if Suffolk has a business case they are not showing it to anybody. The town and parish councils were consulted just two days before the county council meeting last week which is absolutely ludicrous.”

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