Suffolk: Incinerator helps to boost county savings

Great Blakenham Incinerator

Great Blakenham Incinerator - Credit: Archant

Suffolk County Council is looking to cut its budget by nearly £39 million next year – with nearly a quarter of the savings coming from the opening of its Great Blakenham incinerator.

But as finance staff concentrate on next year’s budget, they are also looking forward as the authority looks to cut £156 million from its spending over the next four years.

One service set to come under the microscope is the county’s network of children’s centres, set up by the previous Labour government, which cost about £10 million a year.

In some parts of the country councils have closed children’s centres – but in Suffolk leader Mark Bee said he was determined they should remain, although run in a different way.

Over a four-year period they may be transferred to an external body, like that which runs Suffolk’s libraries, and reformed to ensure their services are targeted at families that really need them.

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The saving from the introduction of the incinerator – or energy from waste plant – is very significant and is likely to be even higher in future years when it is in full operation and generating electricity.

By burning waste, the council will save £8.2 million in landfill taxes next year – and there will be further savings for district and borough councils that use the plant.

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Mr Bee said: “The savings from the incinerator are very significant. That is why we were determined to go ahead with the project.”

The county is looking to cut £9 million from its administrative costs with the end of its contract with Customer Services Direct.

There will also be savings of £10.2 million in its adult and community services budget, £6.7 million from its children and young persons’ budget, and £4 million from its capital budget.

Mr Bee confirmed that Suffolk would be looking more closely at sharing services with Norfolk over the next few years – probably administrative back office work.

“It is too early to say exactly where work would be combined, we have not got to the stage of looking at services but we are hoping to start that process soon,” he added.

Opposition leader Sandy Martin was concerned about the proposed changes to the children’s centres. He said: “There has always been some support on offer to families who are particularly deprived, but often those people were unaware of the help or unwilling to accept it.

“The beauty of a universal benefit is that everyone can access it, and those who really need it are much more likely to get the support they need.”

Mr Martin’s Labour group said that some of the cuts should be eased by the county dipping into its £200 million reserves.

He said “There are some ‘good’ savings in here, where money can be genuinely saved by doing things better.

“But the vast majority are cuts. Cuts are being made by limiting the care available to vulnerable elderly people, and by failing to deliver the school improvement support and careers advice that our young people need.

“Even the Conservative-dominated County Councils’ Network does not believe that the current level of cuts can be sustained without whole areas of council services just collapsing.”

The budget will be looked at during next week’s scrutiny committee at the county council and will then be discussed by the county’s cabinet in the new year.

A final decision will be taken by the full county council in February.

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