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County council cuts go through despite mini-rebellion

Friday, 18th February 2011.

A mini-rebellion by seven Tory county councillors failed to stem their colleagues' axe-wielding juggernaut at yesterday's budget-setting meeting, as Suffolk's school crossing patrols were axed and fire and library services reduced.

Councillors yesterday agreed the council's budget for 2011/12 – including no increase in council tax and a range of savings to address a 28 per cent reduction in the county’s funding from central government.

Seven Tory councillors voted for a Labour amendment which would have saved the crossing patrols, but it wasn't enough to swing the vote.

The Lib-Dem opposition leader Cllr Kathy Pollard said the budget was not, as the Tories had dubbed it, a New Strategic Direction, but a New Sadistic Direction.

It was, she said, just a mad dash to make a statement and inflict as much pain and suffering as possible.

The budget includes £43m of savings - due to a £37m reduction from central government and increased demand for services. Less money from government means that Suffolk County Council has to save £125m over the next four years.

Councillors say they prioritised savings by reducing running costs in order to protect frontline services as far as possible.

They say 82 per cent of the savings are being made by cutting management and overhead costs. This includes a recruitment and pay freeze for Suffolk County Council employees, a 30 per cent reduction in the cost of the council’s central department and cuts to payments for IT services provided by Customer Service Direct.

This means that, although 'regrettable', 18 per cent (£7.65m) of the savings are being made by reducing frontline services including household waste recycling centres and school crossing patrols.

Investments in new services were also confirmed today. The council has agreed £1m of funding for the new, £4m Beccles Loop rail project – improving rail links between Lowestoft and Ipswich to an hourly train service. This is a significant improvement on the current two-hourly service.

There was also a £1m investment in an intelligent street lighting system which will soon see street lights in Suffolk dimmed in the early hours to save energy and reduce light pollution.

The scheme will create net savings of £390,000 a year and contribute significantly to the council’s annual target of a four per cent reduction in CO2 emissions.

Cllr Jeremy Pembroke, leader of Suffolk County Council, said: “I'm passionate about Suffolk and the people of Suffolk.

"The budget we've passed today has been the hardest we've ever had to set but at every meeting, discussion and debate, the long-term best interests of the most vulnerable people in Suffolk have been paramount.

"It’s for that very reason we have focused the cuts on bureaucracy and limited the impact on frontline public services.

“I didn't enter local politics to cut public services. This situation is not of our making but we are the ones that have to face up to it and steer Suffolk through challenging times ahead.

“During our consultations, communities told us they would be interested in running council services but they needed more time. We have listened. That’s why today we agreed a £1.7m transition fund to buy time for communities and the voluntary sector to come forward with proposals.”

The transition fund will reduce the immediate impact of the savings and give other organisations and community groups the opportunity to take over some of Suffolk’s services.

Some of this is being used to keep all youth clubs open until May 23, and to extend some school crossing patrols until July this year. Suffolk County Council has already welcomed offers of sponsorship for patrols and is encouraging more companies to come forward.

Cllr Jane Storey, deputy leader of Suffolk County Council and portfolio holder for resource management and transformation, said:

“It’s our duty, as elected councillors responsible for investing public money, to set a realistic budget which strikes the right balance between support for local services and cost to the public purse.

"I feel that despite the unprecedented financial position, we have achieved this. Since 2005, Suffolk County Council has made £70m of efficiencies savings – making us the second most efficient council in the country.

"But that means finding further savings over the next four years is even harder for us than some other councils.”

Haverhill Online News

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