End of austerity? Not for Suffolk County Council warns finance chief

Richard Smith doesn't expect a government windfall for Suffolk County Council. Picture: Nick Ward

Richard Smith doesn't expect a government windfall for Suffolk County Council. Picture: Nick Ward - Credit: Archant

Despite the Prime Minister telling this year’s Conservative Party Conference that the age of austerity was coming to an end, bosses at Suffolk County Council aren’t expecting a loosening of the purse strings anytime soon.

Theresa May told the party conference that she was calling an end to the age of austerity – and that people should soon expect to see their living standards improve.

However while her speech went down well with many at Conservative-controlled Suffolk County Council, cabinet member for finance Richard Smith isn’t dancing for joy just yet.

He is still looking for £25m in cost savings in next year’s county budget – and is trying to avoid dipping too far into the county’s reserves.

He said: “I heard the speech and I was interested in what Mrs May said about austerity. Of course it is possible that the Chancellor will have a lovely surprise for us in this month’s budget – but I wouldn’t count on that!

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“We should be getting a share of the extra money being put into social care, about £3m in Suffolk, but when you look at all the figures involved you can see that won’t be the answer to all our prayers!”

Mr Smith was encouraged that council leader Matthew Hicks had been able to have a meeting with Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond to make the case for more money to be given to councils.

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Mr Smith said: “We’ll have to see what happens. I think some areas, like the NHS, education, and defence will see more money from the government – but I’m not sure that councils will see a big boost.”

This year’s budget statement from Mr Hammond on October 29 will be the first indication of what councils can expect from the government – but the final figure for individual councils is expected to revealed shortly before Christmas.

The county council’s budget for the financial year 2019/20 will be discussed by the authority’s cabinet in January and then finally approved by the full council in February before bills go out in April.

Councils across the country are under pressure after eight years of austerity – Northamptonshire has effectively gone bankrupt forcing a restructuring of local government in that county while other authorities are struggling with serious budget problems.

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