Ipswich and Suffolk set for huge job cuts

SWEEPING cuts across the public sector in Ipswich and Suffolk – threatening redundancies on an unprecedented scale - can be revealed today by The Evening Star.

Suffolk: Brace yourself - the cuts are on their way.

The grim prospect of major budget reform and redundancies on a massive scale moved closer today as the details of the public spending revolution began to emerge.

The Evening Star can today lay bare the changes which hover ominously on the horizon, including:

- The possibility of NHS Suffolk and the county’s Mental Health Partnership headquarters being all-but swept away


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- GPs taking on some of the responsibilities of the primary care trusts – as well as dealing with more of the associated bureaucracy

- The axing of plans to replace aging trains and carriages

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- Swingeing cuts to county council-provided social care

- Reduced bus services in Suffolk.

Fire chief Andy Fry has been given the toughest job of all - explaining the county’s cutbacks and “new ways of working” to the public.

County council chief executive Andrea Hill has been pivotal to the discussions but she was today not fronting the news of what is going on.

That difficult public-facing role fell to Mr Fry, a trusted aide who also hails from Essex.

Today there was a media briefing at Endeavour House but The Evening Star was ahead of the press conference with its report.

The media heard some outline details of a “new strategic direction” in advance of a cabinet meeting next week.

While fire chief Mr Fry, was attempting to explain the concept behind the “radical proposals”, finance boss Geoff Dobson detailed figures from an emergency budget.

One commentator said: “This really is a case of out of the Fry-ing pan and into the fire for Andy.”

Whether cutbacks await his own fire service is still unclear.

The meeting was hosted by council leader Jeremy Pembroke.

Meanwhile, sources at Ipswich Borough Council said the scale of cutback possibilities envisaged at Endeavour House were not possible at Grafton House.

“We will review every penny as part of our own efficiencies but much pruning work has been done and more will continue,” said one.

The recent review of park-keeper roles revealed in the Star last week was cited as an example of “steady efficiency savings”.

October 21 is when the government is set to publish its Comprehensive Spending Review – that will tell the public service how deep the cuts will be next year.

Over the summer the departments are drawing up options for saving money. Already there have been serious cuts in key departments which will have a direct impact on Suffolk.

The scrapping of the Building Schools for the Future programme has had a devastating effect on education in Ipswich – and the proposals for a new academy at Felixstowe are hanging on by their fingertips.

They rely on finding a sponsor with deep pockets prepared to build the school for the town.

Transport is a sector that has already seen major cuts – Ipswich Fit for the 21st Century and the proposed new A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon have already been shelved.

The upgrade of the cross-country rail line at Felixstowe seems safe and Ipswich MP Ben Gummer is confident that the proposed flood defence work for the Waterfront area of the town is not under threat.

However the government is re-examining the proposed re-franchising of the East Anglian passenger service, leaving National Express in place for longer than expected.

That will not have much impact on services immediately – but it does look as if there will not be any government money for new trains.

The existing trains, with the engines dating back to 1988 and the carriages to 1975 seem certain to stay in service for many more years.

- Are you already feeling the effects of the squeeze on public spending? Write to Your Letters, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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NHS Suffolk and the county’s Mental Health Partnership headquarters could be all-but swept away in the public service revolution, The Evening Star can reveal today.

While vital service provision will remain, key areas of spending will be switched to the responsibility of other bodies – and jobs will go, it is feared.

NHS Suffolk, already under criticism for the purchase of a farm opposite its riverside headquarters on the edge of Ipswich, will face a massive overhaul and will be unrecognisable from its form today.

Key areas being worked on include:

- A move away from Rushbrook House, Bramford, with scores fewer people being taken to a new base, possibly at Suffolk County Council headquarters, where “working together” will yield efficiencies. The county’s new Landmark House, nearby on the A14, could also be a new home.

- Many responsibilities being switched to GP practices – but safeguards will need to be put in place to make sure local doctors deliver.

- Working out who will do what – how it will be done – and how the public will be protected, is still “work to be done”.

Many NHS Suffolk workers are on short-term contracts and that will make the job cuts situation a little easier, said one source.

The Conservatives have never made any secret of the fact that they see no need for Strategic Health Authorities.

Meanwhile, the Star can reveal the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership could merge with the Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Trust to form “one super body” for the region.

But sources said the “new headquarters would be 99.9 per cent likely to be based in Norfolk” with fears for Suffolk headquarters jobs.

Local mental health provision of beds, at Ipswich and Bury, would remain unaffected but be managed, at a headquarters level, from Norfolk.

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STAFF at Endeavour House can be under no illusions about the scale of the cuts facing them – they regularly get memos from chief executive Andrea Hill warning that they are standing on the “Burning Platform” with flames licking around them.

The county’s largest department by far is education – but now most of the schools’ budget is controlled directly from Whitehall.

This means there is little scope for the county itself to cut here – although with more schools becoming academies or in future Free Schools its influence here is likely to diminish over the years.

Privately councillors from all sides feel that the move towards academies is the beginning of the end for county council education departments.

Which all means that the department facing the biggest shake-up at the county is adult and community services.

With an ageing population and the likelihood of more extremely old and frail people needing help in the years ahead, radical solutions are needed.

That is why the county is pressing ahead with the “Suffolk Circle” aimed at co-ordinating local help rather than relying on council support.

This is being promoted even though the first such scheme, in Southwark in London, has attracted only a few hundred members. In future the county will be looking far more at families and friends to support those who need help before they fund social care.

Exact proposals have not been drawn up yet – but officers are thinking this way in “brainstorming” sessions at Endeavour House. One social services staff member told The Evening Star: “Some people would be shocked if they knew the kind of things we were having to think about.”

Highways and transport is another area where cuts will hit hard. The county is determined to carry on maintaining its roads – but everything else in this budget is up for discussion.

School crossing patrols could be decimated. One official said: “Where there is a very dangerous road we will probably keep up the crossing.

“But on estate roads in towns where there has been traffic calming and 20’s Plenty zones installed then we will almost certainly look to end the patrols.

“We will probably say to schools if they think they’re vital they should fund the patrols themselves – but if children are walking to school with their parents then is it really too much to expect the parents to see them across the road if traffic is not going that fast anyway?”

The council’s Explore Card for youngsters is expected to see radical changes. If it is retained it is likely to have to be bought rather than given away free, rather like the rail industry sells young people’s rail cards.

And subsidised bus services are likely to be cut back substantially. A councillor said: “Is it really cost effective to subsidise empty buses going around Suffolk every hour?”

That could mean dramatic cuts to evening and weekend services in Ipswich and Felixstowe. Free bus passes for the over-60s are a government scheme and could not be stopped without an Act of Parliament. It is understood the Liberal Democrats are intent on keeping them – although many local authorities would like to end the universal issue of these cards.

THEY know the day of reckoning is coming, but they’re dealing with it in very different ways.

Babergh and Mid Suffolk leaders have decided they can no longer continue as independent councils.

Some of their back-benchers might not be happy about the prospect, but they have decided there is no option but to head towards a full merger, cutting the number of managers… and councillors.

In Babergh there has already been a dramatic cut in the amount of money given to voluntary groups.

At Ipswich there has already been a reorganisation of the housing department with the axing of the council’s area housing offices and concentrating work on a new call centre at Grafton House.

Now the borough is proposing to take a flamethrower to its parks staff – cutting workers and throwing open the doors of the parks 24/7 in the hope that the nocturnal visitors will be well-meaning citizens undertaking their own patrols rather than vandals and rough-sleepers.

The Corn Exchange has already seen its opening times cut dramatically and the borough would still like to see an external operator take over the Regent.

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