Council reveals swathe of cutbacks from 2019 and proposals for council tax increases
- Credit: Archant
Millions of pounds of cutbacks for council services in Suffolk next year have been revealed – with homes facing further council tax rises for the next three years.
The first draft of budget proposals for 2019/20 were published this afternoon, before being assessed by Suffolk County Council’s scrutiny committee next week.
While no final decision has been made, the plan proposes to pursue a 2.99% council tax rise next year, alongside a further 1% rise for adult social care, before expected 1.99% council tax rises for two years from 2020.
The headline cutbacks include:
• Ceasing its funding for the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme and accreditation and youth support service
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• Stopping roadside bus timetables and presenting information online instead, and
• Reducing spend on rural bus services and relying instead on community transport schemes
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• Winter gritting and out of hours standby services will be reduced
• Street lighting expenditure reduced
• Road sign cleaning being stopped, with only mandatory road markings being maintained
• Reducing housing related support for people in their own tenancies and for the provision of hostel beds
• Review of arrangements with district and borough councils for grass cutting and weed treatment services
• Reduced staffing in directorates
• Removal of the Citizens Advice Bureau grant
• Reducing the legal, training and equipment costs at Trading Standards
• Streamlining running costs in educational psychologists service, although there will be no cuts to frontline services
The plans aim to generate £11.2m in savings, which includes service reductions, cost reductions, and maximising income.
The data means that the axe will fall hardest on the highways, growth and infrastructure department, where £4.2m in savings alone will be generated. That is despite county council leader Matthew Hicks’ pledge to do more for road maintenance when he was elected leader earlier this year.
Cabinet member for finances Richard Smith said: “We have very tough choices to make and we will never please everybody all the time, but we have to keep to our priority areas.
“I hope the public in Suffolk will understand our continuing budget difficulties.
“Suffolk County Council has a high level of probity in its budget setting – it has done over the last few years, and it continues to have that high level. But it does mean difficult choices have to be made.”
Mr Smith said that adult and community services and health, wellbeing and children’s services accounted for three quarters of the council’s budget, and needed to be protected.
The council’s scrutiny committee will discuss the proposals next week and come up with recommendations, before it is presented to cabinet at the end of January and full council in February.
The council had been working on figures which suggested £25m of savings would be needed, but said that the balance could be balanced with around £11-12m of savings because of expected income of around £9m.
Funding shortfalls will come out of the council’s unallocated reserves, which are expected to be valued at around £56.3m for the start of the 2019/20 financial year.
Despite the cutbacks, the council will be spending around 3% more next year, with the overall budget increasing from £500.5m to £514.8m.
Mr Smith said that funding would be helping some of the county’s most vulnerable people, with an additional 2% on adult and community services and health, wellbeing and children’s services experiencing an 8% rise.
Mr Smith added that if the council does not increase council tax, the savings needed would be around twice as much.
Councillor Sarah Adams, Labour group leader at the county council, said: “We have known for a while that the Tories were struggling to find services to cut and this a desperate opening salvo in an attempt to deliver a budget.
“There are so many vagaries presented that it will be almost impossible for the scrutiny committee to get to the heart of what this means.
“It’s clear that there is nothing left for them to cut when they will be consulting on stopping the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, road sign cleaning and turning the lights out on bus stops.
“This is really desperate stuff.
“The horrific thing is that the brunt of these cuts will hit staff with £3m of planned redundancies.
“How are we going to deliver any services with no staff?
“This is a budget proposal that throws in the towel on public services in Suffolk.”
Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent reaction
Andrew Stringer, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said: “These budget proposals are a recipe for disaster.
“The Conservatives have chosen to salami-slice services that support the most vulnerable – services that have already seen devastating cuts in the past.
“Some of the cuts are so illogical.
“After blaming their inability to repair potholes on a bad winter, they’re suggesting a reduction in winter support for Suffolk Highways.
“After two children’s homes were rated inadequate, they’re suggesting cuts to the children’s safeguarding budget.
“I’m shocked these are serious proposals.
“Our stretched council workforce will see a £3m reduction in staffing.
“We’ve already seen an alarming increase in stress-related absence – cutting staff numbers will only exacerbate this.
“This could all have been avoided.
“Tiny increments in council tax over the last eight years combined with new ideas for raising income would have prevented us from reaching breaking point.
“Instead, years of financial short-sightedness from the Conservatives has decimated services.
“This latest round of cuts is no exception.”