Parties prepare for budget battle at Suffolk County Council

Sandy Martin

Sandy Martin

As Suffolk County Council’s cabinet prepares to discuss its budget for next year, the ruling Conservative administration has been accused of failing to outline the impact of proposed spending cuts.

And the opposition Labour group have insisted that the authority should be prepared to spend more of its reserves to ease the pressure on the county’s residents.

The council is looking to cut £38 million in the next financial year – bringing its overall revenue budget down to less than £500 million for the first time in many years.

It says that the cuts will be made by changing the way it delivers services and that front-line services to members of the public should not be seriously impacted.

But Labour fears more service reductions could be on the way – following on from the closure, or merging, of some children’s centres that is due to be discussed at the same meeting.

Labour leader Sandy Martin said: “If you look at the budget they are talking about cutting the budget for adult and community services by about £11 million but they have put in few details about what they are looking at.

“Frankly what we need are cuts to some of the language they use to describe services (like Supporting Lives, Connecting Communities) and more clarity about what they are actually talking about.”

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Mr Martin said the one area where the impact of the cuts did seem clear was in the children’s services “Making Each Intervention Count” initiative – there is a figure of up to 168 possible redundancies in the department.

The number of people directly employed by the council has fallen from just under 10,500 in 2010 to just over 5,500 today – largely because staff have transferred to new bodies outside direct county control like the libraries service.

Cabinet member for finance Jenny Antill said the changes that were being introduced should reduce the amount of money the council has to spend on services by intervening earlier.

She said: “We are working to ensure people are able to stay in their own homes longer with help rather than paying for residential care. That is a saving but it is also what people want.”

There could be a reduction in the amount of money spent on caring for young people because the county would be working closer with other organisations, like health authorities, the police and probation services to try to identify problem families and help they could be offered before critical problems arose.

Another area the county would be looking to save money by working with other bodies was community safety – a consultation paper was being prepared for publication later in the year.

Mrs Antill said: “That is an area where we are working, and so are district councils, and the police. It makes sense to find a way to work together much more closely.”