Further budgets cuts planned as Suffolk County Council prepares to dip into reserves

Richard Smith, Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for finance.

Richard Smith, Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for finance. - Credit: Archant

Suffolk County Council is being urged to cut a further £73m from its budget over the next two years – which will lead to the loss of up to 400 jobs across the authority.

The adult and community services budget is likely to see the largest single cut – it is the largest single department of the county council – but officials and councillors are hoping that the impact of the cuts will not be seen in a major reduction of services.

For the first time in many years the council is planning to dip into its reserves next year – taking about £14m to ease the impact of the cutbacks – although it hopes to replenish them during the following financial year.

Cabinet member for finance Richard Smith said: “Reserves are there to be saved for use on a rainy day, well in local government finance terms, it is pouring!”

The reduction in staff numbers will come from a workforce that is currently about 4,300. Councillors and officials are hopeful the reduction in posts will be achieved by not replacing staff who leave, and redeploying other staff.

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The final figure will not be known until the government has told local authorities what they will be receiving next year – a figure that will be published in the wake of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s autumn statement next Wednesday, November 25.

The following day councillors will have their first opportunity to discuss the budget proposals at a scrutiny committee meeting.

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There will be further debates on the proposals at the county’s cabinet in January before the final budget is agreed by a full meeting of the authority in February.

The county is committed to not raising its element of council tax bills for the four years of the current administration which run until the next elections in May 2017.

The drop in staff numbers would follow a trend that has been running for several years now. Since 2010 the number of people directly employed by the county council has fallen by about 2,000 – although there was an increase last year when Customer Service Direct staff were re-absorbed by the authority at the end of the contract with that company.

Many other staff have been transferred to new employers: Suffolk Libraries, Vertas (who manage the county’s buildings and run service contracts with the authority and other organisations), and Kier who took on the Suffolk Highways contract two years ago.

There are further budget savings being considered, including changes to the way the Suffolk Fire Service operates across the county.

Mr Smith said many of the changes would be focussed on administration, and that there were some specific areas where more money would need to be spent.

More social workers were being recruited, especially to work with children and young people, and there were increasing demands for adult social care.

But Mr Smith said changes were being made to the administration in a bid to ensure there was earlier intervention in care needs as much as possible because to do that would save on the cost of more expensive emergency support.

And he said that despite the cuts, the county council would retain a major role in Suffolk.

He said: “Despite the changes that we have seen over recent years, we still have an organisation with a budget in the region of £500m – with a major impact across Suffolk.”

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