Criticisms mount after Suffolk County Council reveals proposals for millions of pounds in budgetary cuts across services
Millions of pounds of cutbacks for council services in Suffolk next year have been revealed – with householders facing further council tax rises for the next three years.
The first draft of budget proposals for 2019/20 are being assessed on Thursday by Suffolk County Council’s scrutiny committee, which will put forward its recommendations, before the budget is presented to the cabinet at the end of January and the full council in February.
While no final decision has been made, the plan proposes to pursue a 2.99 per cent council tax rise next year, alongside a further one per cent rise for adult social care, before expected 1.99 per cent council tax rises for two years from 2020.
The plans aim to generate £11.2 million in savings, which includes service reductions, cost reductions and maximising income.
The cuts could include:
- Ceasing funding for the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, accreditation and youth support service.
- Stopping roadside bus timetables and presenting information online instead.
- Reducing spend on rural bus services and relying instead on community transport schemes.
- 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 levels 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 data means that the axe will fall hardest on the highways, growth and infrastructure department, where £4.2 million in savings alone will be generated.
That is despite council leader Matthew Hicks’ pledge to do more for road maintenance when he was elected earlier this year.
Cabinet member for finances Richard Smith said: “We have some very tough choices to make and we will never please everybody all of the time, but we have to keep to our priority areas.
“I hope the public in Suffolk will understand our continuing budget difficulties.”
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 had been working on figures which suggested £25 million of savings would be needed, but said that the balance could be balanced with around £11 million to £12 million of savings because of expected income of around £9 million.
Funding shortfalls will come out of the council’s unallocated reserves, which are expected to be valued at around £56.3 million for the start of the 2019/20 financial year.
Latest figures for this year predict an overspend by the end of March of around £7.5 million, although Mr Smith said he was hopeful this will be reduced.
Despite the cutbacks, the council will spend around three per cent more next year, with the overall budget increasing from £500.5 million to £514.8 million.
Opposition leaders have sharply criticised the proposed cuts.
Sarah Adams, Labour group leader at the county council, said: “We have known for a while the Tories were struggling to find services to cut and this is 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 there is nothing left 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.
“The horrific thing is that the brunt of these cuts will hit staff with £3 million of planned redundancies. How are we going to deliver any services with no staff?”
Andrew Stringer, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, added: “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. I’m shocked these are serious proposals.
“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.”