Suffolk looks for a further £42 million in budget savings - but council tax freeze to stay

Suffolk County Council leader Mark Bee.

Suffolk County Council leader Mark Bee. - Credit: Archant

The county element of council tax bills in Suffolk is to be frozen again next year – but the authority’s budget is set to be cut by about £42 million in 2015/16.

However councillors and officials are confident that the cuts can be made by continuing the “transformation” of the way the authority is run.

They are hoping to merge more services with other public sector bodies, including borough/district councils, the police and health services.

And there is also the prospect of sharing more services with other counties like Norfolk and Essex.

County council leader Mark Bee said the authority remained determined to protect front line services as much as possible.

He said: “Look at what is being done in Waveney with the Lowestoft Rising programme. There we are working with the district council, police and health services to target work with troubled families.

“It is allowing us to intervene before problems escalate. It is a more effective way of working and it saves money because of a reduction in administration.”

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The programme was proving successful, and could be extended to other parts of the county over the next few years.

Care teams were being reorganised and more support was being offered to people in their own homes.

Mr Bee said: “There is an increasing demand for specialist care for older people – but now there will be much more emphasis on helping people in their own homes and keeping residential care for those for whom there is no other option.”

The county would increase its work with the voluntary and charitable sector – a move that would become increasingly important in the future.

Mr Bee said: “We are in the middle of a programme that takes us until 2017 and are having to make savings year-on-year.

“But it is not realistic to believe that in 2017 the taps will suddenly be turned on again and there will be much more money to spend. It’s clear this austerity will continue into the 2020s and we have to be prepared for that.”

He rejected suggestions that cuts should have been concentrated early in the current term: “I want to win the county council elections in 2017, but I want to continue to build the foundations of a successful council beyond then into the 2020s.”

Labour opposition leader Sandy Martin said it was possible to save money by setting up joint programmes with other authorities – but warned this could not be done on the cheap.

He said: “This can be very effective, but there needs to be investment in the first place – and there is no sign of this investment from the council.”

However he felt the problem really stemmed from the government’s squeeze on local authority spending.

He added: “There is a point at which local councils simply will not be able to pay for the services that are needed, not just counties but other authorities as well. That point is fast approaching.”

The exact budget figures should become clearer in mid-December when councils hear exactly what they will receive from central government, and next year’s figures should be agreed by the county at meetings in February.