Suffolk: Council’s ‘rainy day’ cash could be used to save services

SUFFOLK: Threatened services across the county could be saved by using “rainy day” money sitting in the council’s reserves, The Evening Star can reveal today.

Lollipop patrols, full-time fire cover in Felixstowe, meals on wheels subsidies, and the popular eXplore ticket giving cheap fares for youngsters could all have been saved if the administration at Endeavour House had used the cash.

However county bosses today defended a decision not to use the reserves to save frontline services.

Suffolk County Council has more than �100million stashed away, prompting calls for some of it to be freed up to alleviate the budget cuts pain.

A large chunk of that, around �60m, includes reserves earmarked for services, one-off projects and business schemes, but there is also a further back-up cashpot called the County Fund General Reserve (CFGR).

The CFGR has focused the attention of the opposition Liberal Democrats because it currently stands at �10.6m – �5.6m above what finance chiefs believe to be the “prudential” minimum.

However, the council says the level is sensible given the difficult financial climate.

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Lib Dem finance spokesman Andrew Cann, pictured, said: “These funds are over and above the contingency built into service budgets, therefore we think that the �5.6m should be considered as rainy day money.

“The Lib Dem view is that this is the rainy day. Councils should be using their reserves to mitigate the front-loading of cuts and to give communities extra time in order to find other ways of providing these services.

“We think this should be used for school crossing patrols this year and libraries next year, for example.”

Of the reserves earmarked for specific commitments, nearly �2m will be used to help develop businesses, which has prompted Mr Cann to question why this was not instead being spent on axed or threatened services.

“Why start up a business when you’re shutting the library?”, he said.

A further �7.4m has been set aside for transforming property and managing change relating to the New Strategic Direction (NSD), the county’s move towards divesting services to the community.

The council has also received a �1.4m performance reward grant from central government which will be used to fund pilot projects linked to the NSD.

Suffolk County Council last month approved plans to cut �42.5m from services, including school crossing patrols, waste recycling centres, youth clubs and the eXplore student discount travel card. However, council tax has been frozen.

n Should the council dip into more of its reserves? Write to Your Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN.

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