Suffolk: Opposition in call for rethink on controversial council cuts

OPPOSITION councillors at Suffolk County Council have tabled an amendment calling for many of the cuts proposed in next year’s budget to be re-instated.

And they have found savings in other parts of the county’s budget to be able to retain the zero increase in council tax.

The amendment will be tabled at Thursday’s full meeting of the county council which will set the budget for the financial year 2011/12.

Their proposals would see the school crossing patrol service being retained, the threat to libraries removed, and retaining the current level of subsidies on rural buses.

These would be funded by using money that has been earmarked to move towards the council’s “New Strategic Direction”, by cutting the amount of money set aside for road maintenance, and by taking some money from the council’s reserves. The list of services which Lib Dems are hoping to save are:

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- Keep all libraries open – cost �350,000;

- Retain school crossing patrols – cost �174,000;

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- Retain funding for youth clubs – cost �660,000;

- Maintain subsidised bus services to rural communities – cost �2.26million;

- Keep the eXplore student discount travel card – cost �1.2m;

- Reopen Bury Road Park and Ride service – cost �150,000;

- Keep open all Household Waste Recycling Centres – cost �800,000;

- Keep Felixstowe Fire Station as full time on weekdays – cost �145,000;

- Retain the Fire Service’s Ipswich Aerial Appliance – cost �225,000;

- Retain the service of checking overloaded lorries – cost �39,000;

- Retaining fire control in Suffolk – cost �230,000.

Total cost – �6.233m

Opposition leader Kathy Pollard said: “Unlike the Conservatives, we have been listening to Suffolk people.

“It has not been difficult to identify the savings we needed to retain these services. It is a question of priorities.

“Clearly the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council are determined to close and privatise as many services as possible. This is ideologically driven and is not being imposed on them by central Government.

“It is also very unfair to expect parish and town councils to pick up the extra cost, for example of running libraries.

“They would have to increase their parish rate considerably and people would effectively be paying twice for a service which under statute should be provided by the County Council.”

Resource and finance spokesman Andrew Cann said: “For some years now we have been urging the County Council to reduce business mileage and other corporate costs. This is an ideal time to trim back all non essential expenditure in order to save front line services.”

Some of the savings suggested by the Liberal Democrats are:

- Reducing business mileage by 10% for council staff – saving �936,024 per year;

- Reducing external room hire by 30% – saving �172,272 per year;

- Reducing reserves by �714,000;

- Reducing the “Management of Change” budget – saving �1,569,728;

- Removing one Director and two Assistant Director posts – saving �380,000

- Reducing the Cabinet to eight from its current 10 members – saving �30,516;

- Reducing the road maintenance budget – not affecting emergency repairs – saving �805,000;

- Reducing management and other costs in the Fire Service – saving �100,000;

- Reducing hours at household waste sites – saving �300,000;

- Reducing Felixstowe fire station to retained status at weekends – saving �75,000;

- Re-opening Bury Road Park and Ride and increasing income – saving �150,000;

- Reducing corporate contingency – saving �1,000,460.

The total savings come to �6.233m.

County council deputy leader Jane Storey will be presenting the budget on Thursday, and said the administration would not be accepting the opposition amendment. She said: “It is one thing to look at savings in isolation for one year, but this is the first of a series of what will be tough settlements.”

The council was faced with finding cuts of �42.5m this year. Next year they could have to find a further �50m in savings.

She said officials and councillors had been considering the budget for nearly nine months and had looked very carefully at all the proposed changes.

The management of change budget was very important because it was preparing staff to work under the council’s new strategic direction in years to come.

And it was not good to raid the reserves when there were likely to be tougher government settlements in future years.

Mrs Storey added: “We have been talking about budget proposals for several weeks now and these proposals have only now come out. That is politics, but we cannot support them.”

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