Suffolk: Council chief -’We want to keep services local’

COMMUNITIES in Suffolk are to be asked what services they want to save as local authority funding to fund them runs dry.

That was the message from Andrea Hill, chief executive of Suffolk County Council last night, as she justified the authority’s current cost-cutting drive.

She was speaking after it was revealed that 29 of the county’s libraries faced closure if alternative funding was not found to pay for them.

Outlining the authority’s vision for the future at Winston School Room, near Debenham, Ms Hill confirmed that some of Suffolk’s libraries would close if communities did not step forward to run them for themselves.

But she said they would also soon be consulting with communities to see what services they wanted to try to take on.

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The talk was organised by the Debenham and Helmingham Benefice and was called Public Services in an Age of Austerity – Public Sector Funding Cuts and the Council’s Response.

Ms Hill – who also answered questions from the packed hall – said there had been many “myths” in the media about Suffolk County Council’s New Strategic Direction.

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The authority has to save �110million over the next four years and is currently looking at divesting its services in a bid to save money.

Today it is launching its consultation over the future of the library service and Ms Hill warned: “There will be some libraries that if no one wants to fund them, we won’t be able to fund them and they will close.”

She said she had already had discussions with the cabinet about the possibility of a “transitional period” – during which the county council could still fund a service to give time for a community group or a town or parish council to come forward.

She also said the county council was giving support to people looking to set up social business enterprises, which would run a service and then plough any profits back into that service.

“We are trying to create an alternative – a very practical solution to the situation that we find ourselves in,” she told the audience.

“We’re not talking about handing them [county council run services] all over to the private sector.

“What we want to do is try to keep services local in Suffolk.

“You as a customer get much more flexibility, much more control, you don’t feel like someone else is running your life. We want to reduce the amount of decisions we are making on people’s behalf.”

She said the county council would soon we entering into “conversations” with communities to see what services they might be able to fund in the future, such as the libraries, children’s centres, country parks or transport routes.

“We want to be able to help people be able to do that,” she said. “That’s what we are focusing on at the moment.”

She said the current measures were vital because if the council does not make the necessary savings then it will mean another round of budget cuts in the future.

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