Public sector facing �350m black hole in Suffolk

PUBLIC services across Suffolk are facing a financial black hole of at least �350million in the next nine years.

Graham Dines

PUBLIC services across Suffolk are facing a financial black hole of at least �350million in the next nine years.

That was the grim message delivered to county councillors yesterday as they were warned against dumping the cuts on charities and the voluntary sector.

The public spending crisis will signal a shortfall in county council finances of �165m, leading to a radical appraisal of which services are a real priority.

Across the county, total state spending - central government, county and local councils, policing, and health - amounts to �4.8billion a year. It's likely that whichever party wins the election will cut this figure by between a quarter and a third.

County council leader Jeremy Pembroke said it was “highly likely” that the authority would receive less money in cash terms over the coming years than at present.

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“The public sector will have to shrink by 25%,” he told the council yesterday. “The challenge for us is that during recession, there will be more demand for services but less money with which to fund them.

“The state of the nation's finances indicates that by 2013, the deficit facing this authority could be �48m and that by 2018 this could be �165m.

“Across the whole of the public sector in Suffolk, the gap is estimated to be �350m by 2018.”

The public sector had to end duplication, which was expensive and inefficient, but the crisis did give Suffolk “a golden opportunity” to shrink the size of the public sector by 25% while maintaining front line services.

“We need to understand that these services now need to be provided on a basis of total collaboration across the whole public sector in Suffolk,” said Mr Pembroke. “We must also embrace the voluntary sector and, equally importantly, the private sector. Each has a role to play.”

But this brought a warning from Liberal Democrat member Craig Dearden-Phillips - who was awarded the MBE in June for work in charities and social enterprise - that the county council could not stop providing services in the expectation that voluntary bodies would take them over.

“We must take the first hits,” said Mr Dearden-Phillips. “We must not expect charities and voluntary bodies to bear the brunt.”

He said the public would not take the county council seriously unless “visible sacrifices” were made by senior managers and councillors. Public sector pay should be frozen and elected members should consider doing without some of their allowances.

Richard Kemp, an independent, said the council had to cut bureaucracy as never before. “I'm not suggesting mass redundancies but we should examine our statutory duties and get rid of services we don't need to deliver.

“We have to tell the public we are going to examine ourselves and get rid through natural wastage what we did not need.”

Chancellor Alistair Darling is expected to make the first cuts in spending when he delivers his Budget Preview before Christmas. Councils will then be told how much money in grants they can expect from April 1, 2010.

A vote agreeing to collaboration with the districts and other public bodies was carried 60-11.

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