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Suffolk County Council’s scrutiny committee discusses proposed £64.7 million savings in 2024-25 budget

Swingeing cuts proposed by Suffolk County Council to save £64.7 million are being discussed by the authority’s scrutiny committee today.

Councillors have gathered at Endeavour House, in Ipswich, for pre-decision scrutiny of the council’s 2024-25 budget before it is discussed by cabinet on January 30, ahead of full council consideration on February 15.

Last week, the authority announced it planned £64.7 million in cuts to balance its budget, alongside increasing its share of Council Tax by 4.99 per cent to make up for inflation and to increase spending on adult and children’s care.

Suffolk County Council, Endeavour House, Ipswich
Suffolk County Council, Endeavour House, Ipswich

Archives, arts funding, staffing and children’s centres are among the areas set for cost savings.

Opening today’s discussion, Cllr Matthew Hicks, cabinet chairman and Conservative group leader, said: “Local Government is clearly at a pivotal point. All council leaders I have spoken to are experiencing the same issues and challenges.

“This is a difficult time for difficult decisions.

Matthew Hicks, leader of Suffolk County Council. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography 2023
Matthew Hicks, leader of Suffolk County Council. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography 2023

“With need at an all-time high and Government unable to increase public finances currently, this is the most challenging set of budget decisions we have to make and have faced for many years.

“Difficult decisions have to be made today and going forward over the coming weeks and months.”

Cllr Hicks said adult and children’s care were ‘at the heart of our plans’, with 77 per cent of the authority’s 2024-25 budget set to be spent on adult and children’s services.

Cllr James Reeder, cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said the department’s budget would increase by 23.9 per cent – to £189 million in 2024/25 – compared to 2023/24.

Cllr Beccy Hopfensperger
Cllr Beccy Hopfensperger

“This is being use to support a range of services,” said Cllr Reeder. “We are currently facing an overspend of £22.3 million. There are several reasons for this, including an unprecedented rise in children and young people who need our help.

“We must look at how we can save money.”

Cllr Reeder said in some cases cost savings might involve redesigning or ‘slimming down’ services to save £5.5 million in 2024/25.

Cllr Julia Ewart
Cllr Julia Ewart

However, he said the greatest saving could be achieved by more children remaining living with families or extended families rather than in care, to save £1.5 million.

“We are confident this can be achieved through more targeted intervention work,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cllr Reeder said £700,000 family hub – children’s centres – budget savings would be achieved ‘following a public consultation – and any changes will only be implemented with the best interests of families in mind’.

Cllr Bobby Bennett. Picture: Suffolk County Council
Cllr Bobby Bennett. Picture: Suffolk County Council

“I am passionate and agree with early help and intervention and the early years. Our family hubs are integral to that,” added Cllr Reeder.

Turning to adult and community services, Cllr Beccy Hopfensperger, cabinet member for adult care, said: “This has to be one of the most difficult years I have ever known when it comes to balancing our budget.

“There have been no easy decisions, no quick wins.”

Next year, £351.8 million is set to be spent on adult social care, with the inflationary cost of care one of the biggest cost increases.

“We recognise the inflationary pressures care providers face. However, it is also the case that funding for councils did not keep pace with this increase,” said Cllr Hopfensperger.

Hospital discharge related costs had also soared, she said.

Cllr Keith Scarff asked how a proposed £11 million cost saving in staffing across the authority might be achieved.

Cllr Hicks said the £11 million figure equated to 220-240 staff, with work currently under way on how the saving could best be delivered.

As part of the savings package the county council proposes cutting £500,000 of funding to arts organisations across Suffolk.

East Suffolk district councillor Julia Ewart asked, in a public question about proposed arts funding: “How are you (Suffolk County Council) going to support something that is so valuable if you have no funding whatsoever?”

County councillor Bobby Bennett, cabinet member for equality and communities, said: “I know how important arts and museums are to many people.

“This council continues to put huge value in arts and museums, even if we don’t have the funds to subsidise core funding. We will, of course, continue to work with them to offer project specific funding opportunities.”

The discussion continues.