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Suffolk County Council reveals plans to make millions of pounds worth of service cuts in 2019/20 budget

Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich. (5430589)
Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich. (5430589)

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 have been published before being assessed by Suffolk County Council’s scrutiny committee next week.

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 headline cutbacks include:

  • Ceasing its funding for the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme and accreditation and youth support service
  • Stopping roadside bus timetables and presenting information online instead, and
  • 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 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 front line services

The plans aim to generate £11.2m in savings, which includes service reductions, cost reductions, and maximising income.

The axe will fall hardest on the highways, growth and infrastructure department, where £4.2m in savings alone will be generated. That is despite county council leader Matthew Hicks’ pledge to do more for road maintenance when he was elected leader earlier this year.

Richard Smith, cabinet member for finances, said: “We have very tough choices to make and we will never please everybody all the time, but we have to keep to our priority areas.

“Suffolk County Council has a high level of probity in its budget setting – it has done over the last few years, and it continues to have that high level. But it does mean difficult choices have to be made.”

Cllr 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’s scrutiny committee will discuss the proposals next week and come up with recommendations, before it is presented to cabinet at the end of January and full council in February.

The council had been working on figures which suggested £25m of savings would be needed, but said that the balance could be balanced with around £11-12m of savings because of expected income of around £9m.

Funding shortfalls will come out of the council’s unallocated reserves, which are expected to be valued at around £56.3m for the start of the 2019/20 financial year.

Latest figures for this year predict an overspend by the end of March of around £7.5m, although Mr Smith said he was hopeful this will be reduced.

Despite the cutbacks, the council will be spending around three per cent more next year, with the overall budget increasing from £500.5m to £514.8m.

New £150k 'Director of People'

As the county council battles with an £8.6 million budget overspend next week the council is set to create a new £150,000 director post, writes Dan Barker.

Cabinet papers published yesterday reveal the new 'Director of People' will overseeChildren and Young People's services and Adult and Community Services transformation programmes and "help deliver financial savings". The new position will also oversee two corporate directors.

The authority estimated the transformation programme would save £31 million over the next three years and Suffolk County Council will pay for the new post by cutting managers below board level.

Cllr Sarah Adams, leader of Suffolk's Labour group, said: "Given the financial mess this council is in I think it is immoral that the Tories want to sack staff in order to employ someone whose job it is to further reduce the services this council delivers.

"We have been saying for some time that this council's approach to service delivery is to salami-slice services now and think about the consequences later. This is another example of the financial illiteracy that this council has perused. So much for the end of austerity."