Fears over jobs and services at Norfolk councils

Service cuts and job losses look inevitable at councils across the region after the coalition government set its sights on local authorities as it announced the biggest spending cuts since the second world war.

Chancellor George Osborne announced that the amount of money councils get from the government will be slashed by 30pc over the next four years. Central funding for day-to-day local government spending is to fall by more than a quarter by 2014/15, while capital provision will be nearly halved.

That was described as 'extremely challenging' by Norfolk County Council, the major public services providers, with its Tory leaders warning that a fundamental review of the authority was needed.

Great Yarmouth Borough Council said it was 'closer to the worse case scenario', while South Norfolk District Council said it 'could have been worse.' Norwich City Council said it was too early to judge what the impact would be.

Councils will not find out how the broad funding announce-ments made yesterday will affect them until late November or early-December. Financial experts said the financial viability of councils would be challenged and predicted some would run out of cash, with the government having to bail them out.

Ian Mackie, deputy leader of the county council, acknowledged the proposed cuts of 7.1pc in local government spending for each of the next four years meant a fundamental review of the authority was needed, which would lead to a smaller council with fewer priorities.

He added: 'The proposed annual reduction in local government spending is extremely challenging and will mean some very tough decisions lie ahead for us and every council in the country. The critical issue is how that overall reduction will be applied between councils and we won't know for some time yet how that will affect us as the relevant grant formulae are under review.

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'We propose to meet this challenge head-on by fundamentally reviewing what we do and the way we do it.

'The Norfolk County Council of the future will need to be smaller in size, have fewer priorities and be extremely focused on seeing as much money as possible directed to front-line services. My colleagues and I are clear there are as many oppor-tunities in this as challenges.'

The EDP revealed last month how the council was considering if it could outsource or privatise some services, including adoption services, to slash funding by up to 40pc.

Mr Mackie said the A11 dualling, which the county council had lobbied, for was 'great news' and said he was pleased the authority had not been among those to have PFI credits - for the proposed incinerator in King's Lynn - taken away from them.

Bosses at Norwich City Council pledged their 'main priority' was to protect front-line services while delivering value for money.

A spokesman said: 'We will need to work through the details before we know exactly what this means for us as a council and as a city. We will also need to understand how the govern-ment departmental reductions affect our partners and the people in our communities.'

The council said it had anticipated having to find savings of around 25pc and had identified �3m of savings for the next financial year.

John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk Council said: 'It could have been worse. We need to find savings of �500,000 every year just to stand still. We have planned for it, but that's not to say we won't be doing what we can to drive out efficiencies.'

Last night the spending review was briefly discussed at the end of a cabinet meeting of Great Yarmouth Borough Council. Managing director Richard Packham said: 'It will take several days to unpick what it means. It is closer to the worse case scenario than the best case scenario.'

Describing how he needed more time to digest what the cuts meant to services before he could fully comment, he said: 'I do not want to frighten the children.'

Norfolk campaigners defending public services condemned the spending plans as a 'blitz on ordinary people' and pledged to spell out an 'alternative budget' of demands at a public rally in Norwich on Saturday.

The event has been organised by Norfolk Coalition Against the Cuts – one of hundreds of broad-based cam-paigns springing up to resist service cuts while pressing for realistic alternative government policies.

Mr Osborne attempted to sweeten the pill by confirming a coalition pledge that some �650m in grants would be available to compensate local authorities who agreed to freeze council tax bills in April and said an end to ringfencing of dozens of revenue grants would give councils more power to decide what to spend their cash on.

Jeremy Pembroke, leader of Suffolk County Council, said the cuts justified his authority's decision to look at radical plans to outsource services.

He said: 'We are better placed to manage with a 28pc reduction in government funding over the next four years as we have been preparing for some time, through elimination of waste making, efficiencies and preparing towards our New Strategic Direction.'