Fears of more service cuts and job losses after Norfolk County Council announces review to save £125m
10:28 07 November 2012
More services and jobs are under threat at Norfolk County Council, after bosses launched a major review aimed at saving £125m over three years.
Just two years after the council started a three-year programme of £135m worth of cuts, County Hall’s chief executive is embarking on a top-to-bottom review which will lead to recommendations for savings in the spring.
More than 1,600 county council jobs have gone already and the authority, which employs just under 7,100 people, has saved millions by making cuts and finding savings.
Those cuts included scrapping the youth service, reducing subsidies for buses, a massive shake-up in the way social care is provided and no longer directly providing meals on wheels.
But more cuts are now inevitable after the council’s Conservative cabinet asked chief executive David White to start a “comprehensive review” of the authority’s “functions and managerial arrangements” to plug a predicted £125m funding gap for the three years beyond 2014.
Opposition leaders said the council could not make such a level of cuts so soon after £135m of savings were made without inflicting “major hardship” on Norfolk’s most vulnerable citizens.
But the council says the review, which would see the first changes made after next May’s county council elections, is vital to “re-align and equip the council to meet further funding challenges”, with an emphasis on making the authority more commercially orientated to bring in income.
Council bosses said it was too early to say what the impact on jobs or services would be - but admitted it will inevitably see some jobs change, others move into new forms and some jobs no longer required.
Trade unions were briefed yesterday afternoon and staff were given a letter from Mr White explaining the reasons for the review.
It comes against a backdrop of local authorities getting less money in grants from central government, with councils fearing even more bad news for their funding in the government’s spending review in October next year.
Derrick Murphy, leader of Norfolk County Council, said: “This is an essential step to take if we are to be confident the authority has the skills and set-up necessary to close the ever-widening gap between what it can expect from grants in the future and what it needs to spend on essential services for Norfolk people.
“Our priority is clear. We want to see essential services protected and, wherever possible, enhanced, whoever delivers them in the future.
“To do this, we need to re-balance our income so that in future we generate much more for ourselves. The economic messages are stark - we can’t rely on government grants to close the gaps in future, and in any event, I don’t think we should.
“In essence, we are reviewing all our operations now to put Norfolk County Council ever more firmly in the driving seat of change. That way it will have more control of its own destiny and be far less reliant on government in the future.”
Changes will be made in phases, the council says and the chief executive makes a point in his letter to staff that he and his senior managers will lead the review, not consultants.
The council said failing to act would be a “dereliction of duty”, leaving a £125m shortfall with no plan in place to deal with it.
The commercial expertise of its arms-length company Norse will be used to help shape the council’s future role, bosses said.
Mr White said: “We must become an even more enterprising authority with a stronger business-like focus, embracing even greater innovation and flexibility in the way we bring in income and commission services.”
But Mike Brindle, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat group, said: “The council has already cut all major areas it can, especially youth services, adult community services and transport.
“It cannot make the same level of cuts again without inflicting major hardship on the most vulnerable citizens.
It should therefore dip into reserves and should sell property, including a moderate slice of its enormous landholding.”
Norfolk County Council is not alone in making cuts. Cambridgeshire County Council last year announced £161m of cuts, while Suffolk County Council is making £50m of cuts over two years.