Standstill budget leaves cuts in place

SUFFOLK’S element of council tax bills is set to be frozen next year.

But almost all the spending cuts proposed by the county last year are expected to be confirmed by two crucial meetings next month.

The county council’s cabinet meets next Tuesday to consider its budget for 2011/12.

It is being asked to go ahead with a tranche of controversial cuts that have caused concern across the county.

None of the controversial proposals that were outlined last month have been withdrawn – although the council has set up a �1.7 million contingency fund to allow some services to continue longer while attempts are made to find alternative operators to take them over.

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This means the council is going ahead with proposals to axe the school crossing patrol service – although as revealed in yesterday’s EADT there are hopes that this could be saved by commercial sponsors.

It is also going ahead with proposals to cut subsidies to rural bus services by more than a half. The meals on wheels service will lose its council subsidy and it will go ahead with changes to the fire service.

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It will go ahead with making cuts to the library service of �350,000 by starting the process of divesting libraries to communities – a process which has placed a question mark over 29 of the county’s 44 libraries.

Seven of the county’s 18 household waste recycling centres are expected to close – and opening times at those which remain are set to be cut.

The decision to freeze council tax bills was never in doubt – the government offered the council a �7.2 million incentive to make the cut, meaning that it would have had to impose a huge council tax rise to make up for the revenue it would have lost.

County council deputy leader Jane Storey said: “In December, The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced the provisional local government finance settlement for 2011-12.

“The figures clearly showed that, as we had expected, the level of funding being made available to the county council will be significant reduced, compared to previous years.

“We remain committed to protecting the vulnerable people across Suffolk as well as supporting the local economy but we have to make savings of more than �40 million by the end of March 2011.

“We do not want to make reductions to front line services but with this level of savings it is inevitable this will impact on everyone to some degree.

“We continue to work to identify savings through streamlining the workforce and by reducing levels of bureaucracy, to minimise the impact on frontline services in the county.”

Opposition leader Kathy Pollard was disappointed that there had not been a re-think.

She said: “This budget is an attack on rural life with the reductions to public transport subsidies and library services. They are taking away things that people find most valuable in their lives.

“They are also threatening the economic vibrancy of Ipswich.”

Labour group leader Sandy Martin was disappointed, but not surprised, that there had not been any changes in the budget plans.

He said: “I’m not surprised the county has gone for a freeze on council tax. The government really did, as the Mafia might say, make an offer they could not refuse in giving a bonus for freezing the council tax level.”

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