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Fresh pressure over Citizens Advice cuts as council publishes updated 2019/20 budget

PUBLISHED: 16:36 22 January 2019

Cutbacks have been proposed by Suffolk County Council for its 2019/20 budget. Picture: ARCHANT

Cutbacks have been proposed by Suffolk County Council for its 2019/20 budget. Picture: ARCHANT

More than £10million of cutbacks remain in Suffolk County Council's budget, it has emerged - with controversial plans to phase out Citizens Advice grants still set to go ahead.

In November, the council unveiled the first draft of its 2019/20 budget which featured a planned 2.99% council tax rise from March and £11.2m in savings to be generated through cutbacks, opportunities to maximise income and cost reductions.

Among the headline proposals at the time were plans to axe the Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) grants, cease accreditation for the Duke of Edinburgh Award, force staff into taking a day’s unpaid leave, and reducing spend on street lighting, roadside bus timetables, and winter gritting.

The cutbacks come amid a total spending increase of £15.5m on last year’s budget, which will go into children’s and adult community services to aid the county’s most vulnerable people.

Pressure from UNISON led to a council u-turn on the unpaid leave plan, while widespread backlash to CAB cuts resulted in the council agreeing to phase out the grants over two years instead of one.

Richard Smith, cabinet member for finances said tough choices had to be made. Picture: SIMON LEE PHOTOGRAPHY/SCCRichard Smith, cabinet member for finances said tough choices had to be made. Picture: SIMON LEE PHOTOGRAPHY/SCC

The cabinet will meet on Tuesday to agree the updated proposals, which if approved will be presented to February’s full council meeting.

Conservative cabinet member for finance and assets, Richard Smith, said: “There are no easy choices at this point. Every call we have to make on where to find savings is tough at this point but we must balance the budget by law and it is right to focus our efforts on our highest priority areas to protect and support our most vulnerable residents.

“I accept that in order to protect these services that represent such a large part of our overall spend each year, we must find savings across the remaining service areas.

“This does mean that we are proposing a number of savings from the council’s highways budget and further staff reductions. This is the stark reality as we continue to experience significant financial challenges in the public sector.”

Sarah Adams said the money wasted on the Upper Orwell CRossings could have funded the CAB for 20 years. Picture: GREGG BROWNSarah Adams said the money wasted on the Upper Orwell CRossings could have funded the CAB for 20 years. Picture: GREGG BROWN

The opposition Labour group called for the council to scrap its planned CAB cuts entirely, and poured fresh criticism on the plan.

Labour group leader Sarah Adams said: “The Tories have got their priorities all wrong. The £8m that they wasted on the Upper Orwell Crossings could have funded the CAB for at least 20 years.

“They clearly do not value or understand the work the CAB do to support residents in Suffolk – it really is a lifeline for many people and the Tories seem content to take this lifeline away. It is a fact that every pound invested in the CAB creates at least £4 in return.”

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