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Suffolk County Council proposes £64.7m in cuts, including arts funding and closing Archives branches in latest budget

A council has proposed £64.7m in cuts to balance its budget including scrapping funding for the arts, making redundancies and closing two archives branches.

Suffolk County Council also plans to increase its share of Council Tax by 4.99 per cent to make up for inflation and increase spending for both adult and children’s care.

Cllr Richard Rout, deputy leader of Suffolk County Council, described this year as one of the most difficult the authority had faced in terms of setting its budget, but wanted to put adult and child support at the heart of its plans.

Suffolk County Council has proposed its budget for the next fiscal year.
Suffolk County Council has proposed its budget for the next fiscal year.

Among the cuts are the proposed closure of West and East Suffolk Archives branches, scrapping core funding for art and museum sector organisations and reductions in spending on dozens of services.

Cllr Rout said the authority joined national calls for more funding and lobbied the Chancellor of the Exchequer directly.

For the 2024/25 financial year, the council will have a budget of about £752 million, made up of Government funding, business rates, charges for services and council tax. Of this, £105m will be for cost pressures due to inflation.

Richard Rout, deputy leader of Suffolk County Council. Picture: Mecha Morton
Richard Rout, deputy leader of Suffolk County Council. Picture: Mecha Morton

Despite a 6.9 per cent increase in its spending power, Suffolk County Council said it did not receive enough funding this year to make up for inflation.

Over the next two years, the authority hopes to pump £74m into adult and child care.

About £42.7 million will be allocated to children’s services and £29.9 million for adult care.

Cllr Rout said its spending needs for child care rose by 28 per cent, and increased by 14 per cent for adult support.

About £11m in savings will be made through reduction in staff costs. Cllr Rout said this could be done by not filling vacancies and re-prioritising workloads – and hoped to keep redundancies to a minimum.

However, he stressed the authority was making cuts to allow it to better look after the most vulnerable people.

“We make no apologies for wanting to prioritise those most in need in our society,” Cllr Rout said during a press briefing.

“What we need to spend on adult and child care outstrips inflation and Government funding, which requires difficult decisions to be made.

“To get this funding, we need to make savings elsewhere.”

In addition, Suffolk County Council is aiming for about £30.6 million in savings through its Adult Social Care Transformation programme, which focuses on things such as providing better provision early on to avoid expenses later, integrating new digital technologies, offering new direct pay options and the launch of an online care brokerage.

Also, about £500,000 will be saved by stopping funding to arts and museum organisations.

These organisations will receive payment for 12 months, giving them one year to seek alternate forms of revenue and easing the transition, Cllr Rout said.

Another cost-cutting measure will involve centralising Suffolk Archives, which could save about £140,000.

In February 2023, Suffolk County Council committed £3.4m to move the West Suffolk Archives branch to the proposed Western Way development in Bury St Edmunds.

Remaining at its current location, in Raingate Street, would have required over £5 million to protect the historic records and meet modern archive standards.

West Suffolk Council has since decided to shelve the Western Way development.

The county council’s plans will see both the Bury archives branch and the one in Lowestoft close, and they will relocate to The Hold in Ipswich.

In total, dozens of services will see a reduction in spending.

These include slashing Suffolk Fire and Rescue’s ICT team and a reduction of its on-call budget, as well as a cut to Suffolk Trading Standards.

Council Tax will also increase. For example, a home in tax band B will now pay 23.50 per week (a £1.12 increase), and a property in tax band D will owe £30.21 per week (an increase of £1.43).

An additional £15.9 million of ‘rainy day’ funding will also go towards balancing the budget.

Suffolk County Council has made about £66m in savings in the past five years, but ‘needed to go further’, Cllr Rout said.

A roughly £28m overspend from last year was also taken into account in this year’s budget.

Cllr Rout said cuts were necessary because demand for council services for those most in need was at an all time high.

He added: “The cost of providing many of those services is significant, but the funding that we need is not keeping up. Across the country, councils are having to make similar tough choices.

“Our proposed budget next year will be around £752 million, of which £105m alone is down to these cost pressures from inflation and increased demand.

“We are a well-run council and over the last five years, we have saved £66 million by working smarter and leaner. But we now need to go even further.

“We have spent months scrutinising all the council’s spending. There is competition for every pound across all our services, and I understand that each service means something to someone.

"We understand the financial pressure facing the Government with public services everywhere asking for more money. This is money that simply isn’t available at the moment, especially after the vital financial support made available during and following the pandemic. This means it is up to local authorities like us to find savings to balance the books.”

The proposals will be debated at Suffolk County Council’s full council meeting on February 15.