Suffolk faces job crisis

SUFFOLK: The Evening Star is today sending out an SOS as the purse strings are pulled firmly shut on the county’s public services.

As we revealed yesterday, hundreds of jobs are set to go as the county council and NHS organisations are reformed in a move to save millions of pounds.

It is a sign the county’s nanny state is rolling back.

Suffolk County Council (SCC) is facing the daunting prospect of having its budget slashed by up to �180m in the worst-case scenario, or �54m as a best-case event, over a four-year period.

Sweeping job cuts will be needed as the council shrinks in size, services will be slashed and more responsibility will be heaped on local communities to step in and “take ownership” as more is asked of voluntary organisations.

SCC leader Jeremy Pembroke said the organisation was facing an “unprecedented challenge” and added that councils will need to be smaller and help communities help themselves.

A report outlining the “reshaping” of the council, written by head of policy Sue Roper, says the new model will be based on a 30 per cent reduction in costs over the next three years in order to meet the demands of the financial situation.

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The changes are expected to be phased in from April next year, ending in September 2012.

In the report, Mrs Roper said the council will work to make sure individuals and communities will be in the right position to take control over what happens to them and the services they receive.

She said: “Some currently provided services will not be provided in the future - unless there is a market for these outside the public sector. The council will do less and provide less than it does currently as its budget will be smaller.

“To achieve this reduction, there needs to be an honest conversation with Suffolk’s communities about their expectations, what they need and what they can do for themselves and for others.”

She said the new-look council will be small and “highly skilled” which would require “fewer and much simplified back-office functions”.

Mr Pembroke described the “fundamental shift” in re-shaping the council as a “remarkable thing”, and a new “refreshing way, where people say yes”.

“We will move on to be a slimmer council, there will be less bureaucracy, more innovation and a greater ability to move quicker.

“What we are saying is people in the community will have more opportunity to deliver services, including town councils and parish councils.

“People know much better the services they need and what is important to them. With the huge financial challenge we face, we must make changes.”

Although Mr Pembroke could not specify which services are under threat, he said savings are going to be made wherever possible.

He said: “The alternative is to ‘salami slice’ services and end up with the whole thing on the rails.”

On the subject of job cuts, Mr Pembroke said the council are not in a position to put a number on the losses.

But he said: “The role of the councillor will become more significant, more important than it is now.

“They will be engaging with their communities to scrutinise what is happening at a local level to get this going. Councillors are going to have a major say.”

Outlining the plans, Mr Pembroke used the example of how the county reacted in the face of the crippling cold weather earlier this year.

He said while the county council did a fantastic job of keeping the roads open, he highlighted the work of voluntary organisations such as the Land Rover Club, which brought food supplies to people and neighbours and checked on people in need within their community.

The Evening Star brought the first details of the grim cuts to the attention of the public yesterday ahead of a media briefing at Endeavour House.

Andy Fry, chief fire officer, is fronting the drastic shake-up, but Mr Pembroke assured SCC chief executive Andrea Hill will play a key role.

Mr Fry will continue as fire chief as well as leading the way to determine the new “strategic direction” in advance of a cabinet meeting next week.

The full extent of the cutbacks and the restructuring is likely to take some time with plans to see the newly formed council operating by 2012.

With an ageing population likely to need more help in the future, radical solutions are needed in the face of the slashed budget.

In the future, the county will be looking to the friends and family to support those who need help before they fund social care.

Exact proposals have not yet been agreed, but workshops and brainstorming sessions will be held at Endeavour House over the coming months before the Cabinet discuss the full proposals at a meeting scheduled for September 23.

The scrapping of the Building Schools for the Future programme has already dealt a devastating blow to education in Ipswich - and the proposals for a new academy at Felixstowe are hanging by a thread.

Transport, too, has seen cuts - Ipswich Fit for the 21st Century has already been shelved. Ageing trains and carriages are now unlikely to be replaced and seem certain to stay in service for the foreseeable future.

School crossing patrols could be banished with the responsibility falling to schools and parents walking their children across busy roads.

And subsidised bus services could also face the brunt of the budget squeeze, with slashed timetables affecting evening and weekend services in Ipswich and Felixstowe.

<Panel - Key questions>

n Will the salaries of the chief executive and other high-paid bureaucrats face the same proportion of cuts as the budget?

Mr Pembroke said: “Salaries at the moment are fixed by contracts. If the market starts to come down then future salaries of people joining will go down.”

n Why is Mr Fry, and not Andrea Hill, leading the way with the new model?

Mr Pembroke said: “He was considered to be at the time somebody with a great deal of interest in going forward.

“Andrea Hill is playing a very, very key role in shaping new policies.”

n With Andy Fry taking the reigns, will he still fulfil the role as chief fire officer?

Mr Pembroke said: “Andy Fry is still very much involved as Chief Fire Officer, but he also will be helping with the re-shaping of the council.”

n How many council officers will lose their jobs?

Mr Pembroke said: “We are saying the county council will be smaller in time.”

n Will there be fewer councillors?

Mr Pembroke said: “The role of the councillor will become more significant, more important than it is now.

“They will be engaging with their communities to scrutinise what is happening at a local level to get this going. Councillors are going to have a major say.

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