Standing up for Ipswich in wake of cuts

IPSWICH: In the aftermath of demoralising budget cuts a group of borough councillors have today come up with an 11th-hour plan that could bring hope to hundreds of despondent campaigners.

Opposition members at the borough council claim their latest plan, which looks to protect school crossing patrols and aid under-threat libraries – proves they are “standing up for Ipswich”.

The Labour party have tabled an amendment proposing to stop the introduction of “locality” budgets, which would see all councillors given �5,000 “spending money” at a total cost of �240,000.

Instead they want this money be used to fund the town’s 15 lollipop patrols, plus the staffing and supply costs for the threatened libraries at Stoke, Westbourne and Rosehill – countering the effect of the drastic cuts announced as a result of Thursday’s crunch budget meeting.

Suffolk’s county councillors decided to axe �174,000 of funding for the crossing patrol service – despite impassioned pleas from campaigners.

Labour’s plans to divert the locality funds would also help minimise the effects of future cuts and council tax rises.

Labour leader David Ellesmere said: “We can’t promise to save everything that the government is cutting, but this shows Labour is standing up for Ipswich.

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“Our proposals will protect jobs, protect our children’s safety and protect our local libraries.”

The county’s Tory councillors overwhelming rejected a Labour amendment at Thursday’s budget meeting to keep the patrols as a council-run service.

But there were seven Tory rebels who voted in favour of the bid, two of whom sit on the borough council – Russell Harsant and Robin Vickery.

This has given the borough’s Labour group added hope that their own amendment might be successful due to the narrow swing needed between the 25-strong ruling Tory-Lib Dem coalition and the 23 opposition councillors.

Mr Harsant said he voted to retain the patrols because he felt the transition had been rushed through.

He said: “I would rather the county had funded it for another year so they could get firm policies in place towards the Big Society idea.

“They could have found the money. At the moment, we are at sixes and sevens.”

He declined to comment on how he would vote on the borough’s amendment.

From the next academic year, any school wanting a crossing patrol will have to find funding from other sources. Sidegate Primary School which has already secured sponsorship from estate agent Jonathan Waters.

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said: “Going forward, school crossing patrol services will be determined locally. If Ipswich Borough Council was to put up this money, they would need to go to these local groups.”

Borough councillors will vote on the proposals next Wednesday.

n What’s your reaction to the Labour group’s proposals? Write to Your Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.