No decision yet on Council budget cuts

Redcar & Cleveland’s Liberal Democrat Group have voted against Labour’s budget, calling it a “cop-out” which delays big decisions until after the May elections. Liberal Democrats have welcomed the Council’s decision to set a 0% Council Tax rise. This has been made possible by a generous £1.4 million grant from central Government. But other aspects of Labour’s budget are very concerning to Liberal Democrats. A major one is the lack of detail in the budget proposals. Lib Dem Leader Councillor Chris Abbott, who represents Newcomen ward, said: “We welcome the 0% Council Tax increase. In these tough economic times this will be a real help to low and middle income households. I am pleased that the Government has made this possible with its grant. I am also pleased that Labour has listened to advice from Liberal Democrats. We have been proposing a 0% increase since December. “However, Labour’s budget does not say specifically where the cuts will be made. It is a cop-out budget, with Labour hoping to delay big decisions about spending until after the local elections in May. Councillors cannot be expected to vote for a budget without knowing the detail. For example, we do not know what charges are going to be increased.

“Tackling Labour’s disastrous financial mess was always going to be hard. Because local government spends 25% of all public money, councils were always going to have to play a big part in fixing the black hole in the country’s finances. “If Labour claim they can avoid making  cuts to frontline services then there must have been a great deal of waste before. Much of what they are doing now could have been done over the two years they took to reorganise the Council. If they didn’t foresee this they need their heads examining.” Leader of Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council, George Dunning said: “As the detail began to emerge from the Government’s comprehensive spending review last October, it became clear that we as a council would be facing cutbacks on an unprecedented scale. “Once the dust had settled, the headline figures for Redcar and Cleveland were that we had to make £15m worth of savings in the next financial year – and £25.5m over the coming four years. “In such tough times for local government, there will unfortunately be unavoidable impacts on both public services and our own workforce. “All of the work we have undertaken in recent months has been guided by four principles – remaining focused on our priorities, protecting the vulnerable in our communities, concentrating on the delivery of frontline services and minimising the number of job losses. “Internally, this has been a massive challenge for us. We had already gone through a restructuring process which saved £4.1m in staffing costs, while we had made £12.5m worth of value-for-money savingsin the previous two years.

“Of the £15m to be saved in 2011/12, we have also been successful in reducing that figure by half as a result of various business solutions, such as selling some of our assets for the best price possible. “In light of the savings still required, we had to launch thorough reviews of every single aspect of our work, whilst consulting our employees, councillors, unions and a host of local organisations. “Keeping the number of compulsory redundancies to a minimum has been personally extremely important to me. Having experienced compulsory redundancy in the steel industry in the midnineties I hope this aspect of the cuts will be kept to an absolute minimum. “However it will not be possible to avoid this entirely, but a huge amount of support has been made available for those staff affected by the cuts. “As we move forward, residents of the Borough will undoubtedly see a reduced council service. It is impossible to make such enormous savings without this happening. “But despite the economic climate, we are committed to providing focused services for the people most in need of them. “We are not closing libraries. We are not closing SureStart centres. We are striving to maintain  the frontline services that matter most to our residents and will continue to do so, whatever the financial restrictions imposed upon us. “These Coalition cuts, with the vast majority coming in the first year are cutting too deep and far too fast.”

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