Council services facing huge cuts

SERVICES in Suffolk are facing savage cuts of more than 25% as the county faces up to a crisis in public sector spending.

Graham Dines

SERVICES in Suffolk are facing savage cuts of more than 25% as the county faces up to a crisis in public sector spending.

One estimate suggests that the scale of spending in the county could have to be axed by 33% over the next 10 years which would have a drastic impact on social care for the elderly, vulnerable and the disabled.

As county and district councils grapple with the economic downturn, nearly 40,000 council staff face an anxious time as they wait for the inevitable jobs cuts.

Redundancies among public sector workers, many of whom are low paid, will have a knock-on impact on the county's economy as the spending power of families is reduced.

It's not just local government in the firing line. Health services and policing are all facing cuts in government funding whichever party wins the general election. The crisis will bring an unprecedented level of co-operation to tackle what's been described as “the burning platform” in the county.

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The stark realities have been laid out by the county council's chief executive Andrea Hill, who is leading an evaluation of what services may have to be axed across the whole public sector in the county.

“The recession is now leading to a crisis in public sector finances, the like of which we have not seen for over a decade,” says Mrs Hill in a report to be debated by the full council next week.

“We will have to take every opportunity to reduce bureaucracy and make our way of working simpler and we need to act now as we are facing reductions in funding for a number of years.”

Mrs Hill says high level agreement across councils, police and the NHS is imperative, as well as working much closer with charities and voluntary organisations.

Traditional demarcation lines such as separate headquarters for councils and public bodies may be swept away as public bodies look to share back office costs. “We have to transform public services by collaboratively redesigning them to reduce the cost of the total public sector in Suffolk while building social capital.”

Ipswich and Colchester have already combined their museums service and Ipswich and Suffolk Coastal are expected to merge port health services.

Jane Storey, the politician in charge of the county's resources portfolio, said all service directors had been asked to draw up a list of the impact of large cuts. “We have no option - Suffolk is affected just as much as elsewhere in Britain by the recession.

“The years ahead are not going to be easy. We are looking at an unprecedented financial squeeze and it is bound to be painful.”

Suffolk county's opposition leader Kathy Pollard called for a cross-party approach. “We don't want to be scrapping at council meetings - we need to try to achieve consensus on what is going to be a difficult and upsetting process.”

Mrs Pollard said: “We are facing a horrendous future with unpalatable choices, but the county must do all it can to protect front line services for the vulnerable.”