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Norfolk County Council cuts of almost £140m move a step closer

PUBLISHED: 12:01 27 January 2014 | UPDATED: 14:01 27 January 2014

Protesters gather outside County Hall lobbying councillors going into a cabinet meeting where proposed cuts to council services will be discussed.
 Picture: Simon Finlay

Protesters gather outside County Hall lobbying councillors going into a cabinet meeting where proposed cuts to council services will be discussed. Picture: Simon Finlay

Council cuts of almost £140m over the next three years have moved a significant step closer.

The controlling Labour/Liberal Democrat cabinet at Norfolk County Council met today to discuss the cuts and agreed to recommend them to full council.

If approved by the full council, it will mean a wide range of cuts across all Norfolk County Council services.

It will lead to the loss of hundreds of council jobs.

From reductions in library staff and school crossing patrols to less money to fix roads and charging for recycling, the proposals were outlined in a consultation called Putting People First.

Two of the most contentious proposals were to cut subsidies for transport for 16 to 19 year old students and to reduce spending on personal budgets in adult social services.

The cabinet has suggested a year’s stay of execution for those cuts, although the savings will still have to be made over the three years.

An extra £3m, as previously agreed, will go into the troubled children’s services department.

The £308.3m budget for next year is predicated on a freeze for council tax.

James Joyce, deputy leader of Norfolk County Council, said: “It is extremely difficult, pressured times for all councils at the moment.”

The full council will consider the proposals and set a budget when it meets on February 17.

Steve Morphew, cabinet member for finance, said he hoped to avoid a “political bunfight” over the budget. He said: “We are trying to put together a budget for the whole of the county and the council. We need to make sure we have got something manageable and governable.

“I hope we will be able to come up with a proposal to go to council which has a good degree of consensus.”

He said longer-term planning was difficult because of “shifting sands” and uncertainty over how the government will fund local councils in the future.

But Bill Borrett, leader of the Conservative opposition, said he remained concerned that the £140m of cuts did not fully plug the funding gap, with millions left to find in the longer term.

He pointed to reports from the council’s interim head of finance as highlighting a greater need for long-term planning.

He said: “From managing the capital budget to managing the county’s level of debt, this Labour/Lib Dem administration has failed to show proper leadership and now even their own interim head of finance has had to intervene in public and call for proper budget planning.

“The Conservatives always managed the county’s finances prudently and to see 12 years of hard work being wasted is galling and bad news for the residents of Norfolk.”

Richard Bearman, leader of the Green group, said his group still had concerns about the cuts to personal budgets. He said: “Our view remains that this is not a budget which is good for anyone in receipt of council services.”

Protestors against the cuts - including from union UNISON and the Norfolk People’s Assembly - gathered outside County Hall ahead of yesterday’s meeting.

Speaking afterwards, David Peel, from the Norfolk People’s Assembly, said: “County councillors are struggling with the symptoms instead of tackling the disease. Austerity is crippling the county we love.

“Councillors have to find the courage to face down [communities secretary] Eric Pickles, reject cuts and stand up for the Norfolk people.”

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