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Cuts to Citizens Advice funding remain as part of more than £11 million of savings in Suffolk County Council's budget

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Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (6749482)
Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (6749482)

More than £10 million of cutbacks remain in Suffolk County Council’s budget, it has emerged – with controversial plans to phase out Citizens Advice grants still set to go ahead.

In November, the county council unveiled the first draft of its 2019/20 budget, which featured a planned 2.99 per cent council tax rise from March and £11.2 million in savings to be generated through cutbacks, opportunities to maximise income and cost reductions.

Among the headline proposals at the time were plans to axe grants to the Citizens Advice network, cease accreditation for the Duke of Edinburgh Award, force staff into taking a day’s unpaid leave and reduce spend on street lighting, roadside bus timetables and winter gritting.

The cutbacks come amid a total spending increase of £15.5 million on last year’s budget, which will go into children’s and adult community services to aid the county’s most vulnerable people.

Pressure from Unison led to a council U-turn on the unpaid leave proposals, while widespread backlash to the Citizens Advice cuts resulted in the council agreeing to phase out the grants over two years, instead of just one.

The cabinet is meeting this month to agree the updated proposals, which, if approved, will be presented to February’s full council meeting.

Richard Smith, Conservative cabinet member for finance and assets, said: “There are no easy choices at this point.

“Every call we have to make on where to find savings is tough, but we must balance the budget by law, and it is right to focus our efforts on our highest priority areas in order to protect and support our most vulnerable residents.

“I accept that, in order to protect these services that represent such a large part of our overall spend each year, we must find savings across the remaining service areas.

“This does mean that we are proposing a number of savings from the council’s highways budget and further staff reductions.

“This is the stark reality as we continue to experience significant financial challenges in the public sector.”

The opposition Labour Party group at the county council called for the authority to scrap its planned cuts to Citizens Advice, and poured fresh criticism on the plan.

Labour group leader Sarah Adams said: “The Tories have got their priorities all wrong.

“The £8 million that they wasted on the Upper Orwell crossings could have funded Citizens Advice for at least 20 years.

“They clearly do not value or understand the work the charity does to support residents in Suffolk – it really is a lifeline for many people, and the Tories seem content to take this lifeline away.

“It is a fact that every pound invested in the service creates at least £4 in return.”