Suffolk: ‘Council plans could cause local recession’

THE economy of Suffolk could be driven into a local recession if Suffolk County Council presses ahead with its plans to the way it delivers services, union leaders are warning.

They argue that the county, and particularly its market towns, would be vulnerable to heavy public sector job losses.

The warning came as public sector union Unison voiced its concerns at the risk to the local economy as the county council plans to outsource services in a bid to make 28% cuts over the next four years, to save about �125million.

At a meeting in Ipswich yesterday, a report claimed plans to divest services as part of its New Strategic Direction (NSD) could lead to “many redundancies” of county council staff.

Steve Warner, a senior service conditions officer for the Suffolk branch of Unison, warned hundreds of jobs were likely to go but feared “it will be thousands”.

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Explaining the impacts facing Suffolk, Neil McInroy, of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, who carried out the research, said the council’s plans were “extraordinarily ambitious”. He described the county’s economy as small with a “limited ability to absorb public sector cuts”.

The geography of the county with many small self-contained rural economic hubs will leave it more vulnerable than large cities, according to the report. Mr McInroy said: “Many market towns and villages in Suffolk have isolated economies with little connectivity.

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“So if you take out public sector employment there is no other economy around that can easily absorb the job losses.”

The report says that market towns in the county, such as Newmarket, Bury St Edmunds and Mildenhall, are “not conducive” to absorbing large numbers of job cuts from the public sector. Ipswich, along with Bury, are both towns where a high proportion of people are employed in the public sector and so could be more at risk, according to Mr McInroy.

Mr McInroy said: “In Ipswich 31%of people are employed in the public sector and in Bury that figure is 29%.Both towns are highly dependent on public sector employment and will be particularly vulnerable to the job losses.”

Another factor highlighted in the report was the reliance in Suffolk on the retail sector.

Mr McInroy warned with public sector jobs lost, fewer people would be able to spend money in the local economy which will have a direct impact on the retail sector, which employs one in four people in the county.

He also warned the county’s small social sector may not be up to the task of taking on and managing frontline services as divestment happens. He said the county council must be “very careful” implementing the plan, warning of unforeseen consequences could destabilise the economy and society.

For the growing vulnerable population in Suffolk, made up of older people and children, the plans could be at risk if divestment is carried out like “a bull in a china shop”. “The cuts need to be proportionate to the local economy,” he added.

Cllr Jeremy Pembroke, the council leader, said he welcomed Unison’s views.

“We will continue to engage with as many people as possible from across Suffolk throughout the development of the NSD and during implementation,” he said. “All of the views we receive will be carefully considered and will help inform decisions made over the coming months and years.”

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