County council saves �1m

MORE than a �1million in council spending has been diverted to boost Suffolk's recession fund - but opposition county councillors have questioned how much of the money was a genuine saving.

Graham Dines

MORE than a �1million in council spending has been diverted to boost Suffolk's recession fund - but opposition county councillors have questioned how much of the money was a genuine saving.

Chief executive Andrea Hill set up the fund, with an “ambitious” target to raise �2million in six weeks to ease the economic difficulties of small business and families struggling with the recession.

She asked staff to consider whether meetings they would normally attend or projects they would embark on were really necessary. She hoped to raise �50,000 a day through staff being more prudent with the council taxpayers' cash

Among the savings diverted to the full is a �25,113 refund from the Government for costs incurred by the county council in dealing with the Avian Flu outbreak in 2007, �100,000 after a better process was found to deal with bed blocking in hospitals and �100,000 in efficiency savings in public protection.

One department, adult and community services, has included a renegotiated contract as a special saving of �35,000 and has contributed it to the chief executive's recession fund.

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Several departmental heads have cancelled staff journeys to London and other cities and also decided not to attend conferences, saving on travel and subsistence.

However Liberal Democrat leader Kathy Pollard called the recession “a great big publicity stunt which has undermined the confidence of staff in the council's administration”.

She added: “They are unhappy that savings have been identified which should have come to light during the budget process. Just a few weeks ago, Suffolk set its annual budget, but why was most of the money which is now being claimed as savings not included when council tax was being set.

“Most of the money which the chief executive claims as savings actually comes under the heading of what I call `business as usual' - it would have been saved anyway.”

Labour's Julian Swainson said it was “a silly exercise” and one which should “not be taken seriously”. He added: “When council officers were drawing up the budget, they should have included what is now described as savings. There is a proper process for dealing with council spending, and this is certainly not it.”

Some councillors have contributed to the pot by not claiming some of their travel expenses, and partner organisations have also played their part - Customer Service Direct waived charges for some IT installations and Suffolk Police using a local speaker for an event rather than a national one.

The council defended claiming the Avian Flu outbreak refund as a saving. “The budget is about revenue and therefore the refund from government was not included.

“Because we were never sure that we would get this money back, we had already covered our costs, so we can now release cash money into the recession fund,” said Joanna Spicer, the councillor in charge of public protection.

Jeremy Pembroke, Leader of the county council, said: “These are all great examples of small actions that together can make a big positive difference. In times like these people rightly look to the council for help. Making these savings will not impact on front line services now, but will help us quickly respond to problems faced by business, communities and families during the recession.”

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