Stinging response to council’s planned huge cuts

COUNCILLORS, union reps and volunteer workers have all expressed their concerns at plans by Suffolk County Council to respond to a 30% funding cut by “fundamentally” reshaping the way it works.

The council has said it plans to restructure, outsource some services and trim back-office staff in a bid to combat a reduction in income from the Government.

Council leader Jeremy Pembroke said the result would be a smaller council, working in partnership with borough and district authorities and with community groups.

“We will work much closer with districts and boroughs and health organisations and working with the voluntary sector, who have a big role to play in developing the new strategic direction,” he said.

But Sandy Martin, leader of the Suffolk County Labour Group, said he was unhappy with the solution and that some councillors and officers seemed to be “relishing” the chance to offload services.

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He said: “It’s very vague. I believe it’s un-deliverable. If they think they can make 30% cuts in Suffolk County Council services then they are deluded.

“And not only will we see a situation where there is no way they can make the efficiency savings they are planning, but also demand for statutory services is going to rise. The Government’s policies of making people redundant will lead to more people requiring council services.”

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He added: “There are some people in the county council, both politically and members of staff, who don’t really believe in public services and are in a sense relishing this reason for outsourcing and privatising and shifting things into the private sector. I think that’s very sad.”

A spokeswoman for UNISON said the “swingeing” cuts had been put forward with “little thought to the consequences for the people of Suffolk, the many workers who deliver them and the local economy”.

She said: “It’s vital that people understand exactly what this means. This is a 30% cut to local services and the people who will feel the pinch are the old, vulnerable and the young people in our communities. The effects will be felt in home care, road safety, highways, schools, fire and community safety to name just a few of the council services we all value.”

Chief executive of the Suffolk Association of Voluntary Organisations Jonathan Moore said its 5,000 members would need to take on and deliver more public services, manage more community assets and promote more volunteering and self-reliance.

He said: “At a time when the voluntary sector is itself stretched thin by the tough economic conditions, this is a ‘big ask’ – but also a necessary one. Voluntary groups are practical and realistic and understand the difficult decisions facing the county council.”

Daphne Savage, chief executive of Age Concern Suffolk, said she had been “expecting the news for a while”.

She said: “In some ways it’s good to be told the real size of the problem from the county council’s point of view. I know I can confidently say that everyone at Age Concern Suffolk will do anything they can in these difficult times to ensure the maintaining of good quality support for older people who need it.

“Older people tell us that they need their support and care much closer to home and we as an organisation are ready to step up to the challenge to ensure that they get it.”

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