Suffolk County Council set for £25m cutbacks next year

Suffolk County Council offices, Endeavour House. Picture: ARCHANT

Suffolk County Council offices, Endeavour House. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: ARCHANT

Cutbacks of £25million are set to be made in the county council’s budget next year, finance chiefs have warned.

Richard Smith, Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for economic development Picture: SUFFOLK COU

Richard Smith, Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for economic development Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL - Credit: Archant

A cabinet document published earlier this month at Suffolk County Council reported that it was looking at an £8.6m overspend by the end of the year, based on finance figures for the first three months of this year.

At a council scrutiny meeting held on Thursday probing the figures, cabinet member for finance and assets Richard Smith confirmed more belt-tightening cutbacks were on the way.

He said: “We will have to find a further £25m savings for 2019/2020, and that is proving by far to be the most difficult time I have had since I took on this responsibility.

“The savings that are set forward that can be implemented without our public in Suffolk noticing, we have done all of those.

“We are doing all we can to cope with the budget pressures.”

He added: “I have some confidence we will be managing down the deficit that is indicated at the end of the year from the quarter one figures of £8.6m.

“I cannot promise we will get to zero, in an ideal world we would like to.”

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It is not yet clear how far the council will be able to reduce that overspend to, but any spend over budget will have to come from the council’s reserves, which currently stand at £51.1m.

Mr Smith confirmed that no area would be immune from cutbacks, with all areas understood to be overbudget, however no clear plans have been laid out for where the cutbacks will come from.

He added: “Suffolk is not going to be the next Northamptonshire. Other county councils are in a far worse state than we are, but if we don’t keep a firm grip on finances our savings will diminish and it is possible within four-to-six years we could be in a Northamptonshire situation. I am confident we won’t be there.”

Labour reaction

Labour group leader Sarah Adams said: “Those of us in who understand local government have been warning councillor Smith for many years about the long-term implications of the Conservative fixation with austerity and ever-shrinking government.

“The Tories are now finally realising that the cuts this council have imposed on the county, and the services they have withdrawn, have had a devastating effect on Suffolk. The economically illiterate decisions made by this council in the last five years are now coming home to roost.

“It is noticeable that of the 10 councils most at risk from bankruptcy nine of them are Conservative-run. Labour councils invest money to create income in order to protect services whereas Conservatives ensure service reduction by salami slicing until there is nothing left.

“Given that councillor Smith acknowledges that ministers do not want to hear the harsh realities of local government delivery it is time he stopped his cosy back room chats with central government ministers – this approach has failed – and join us in publicly calling for the end of austerity.”

Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent reaction

Andrew Stringer, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said: “I find it amazing that this Conservative-run council seems powerless to negotiate a sustainable level of funding for Suffolk, and merely accepts what is handed down to them. For years they have been cutting services back to the bare minimum.

“Another £25m of cuts could be devastating and will put our most vulnerable residents at risk.

“This Conservative administration has clearly not generated enough income from other sources or acted on many of the positive suggestions from opposition groups.

“Having failed to meet income targets this year, Councillor Smith has promised lower and more ‘realistic’ targets for the next budget.

“We would much rather see some innovative thinking from the council and some real income for our county.

“For instance, Barley Homes was budgeted to contribute over £300,000 this year – yet we walked away without a penny.”

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