Campaigners call for rethink over Norfolk cuts as crunch meetings begin

A previous protest against cuts at Norfolk County Council. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

A previous protest against cuts at Norfolk County Council. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

Organisations representing some of Norfolk's most vulnerable people today urged county councillors to rethink damaging cuts as they begin a week of key meetings over where the axe should fall.

Services for older people and children, Norfolk fire stations and the future of libraries and museums are at risk because Norfolk County Council needs to save £111m over three years.

Today marks the start of meetings where councillors will consider the fate of services, ahead of the council setting its budget in a month's time.

The council's controlling Labour/UK Independence Party/Liberal Democrat administration has already indicated that, with chancellor George Osborne giving the green light for a council tax increase, they might be able to scrap some of the most controversial savings.

That could mean the abandonment of a proposal that the council should no longer pay for transport for social care. That had been criticised by Age UK Norfolk and disability charity Equal Lives.

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Hilary MacDonald, chief executive of Age UK Norfolk, said: 'We are very concerned about that because that would be a huge issue, given we are such a rural county. There's a risk that people could choose to reduce the services that they use or stop using them completely.'

And she said the shift away from dedicated daycare to community-run support also needs to be carefully considered.

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Mrs MacDonald added: 'We totally support the idea of people getting support in their local communities and we know how beneficial it can be for older people to meet in a pub and enjoy a quality pub lunch. But that's not for everybody and there will still be a need for building-based day care.'

Heacham fire station may also be saved from the axe.

The proposed closure of that station – and either Outwell or West Walton – as part of cuts of almost £2.4m to the fire service led to fierce opposition and public meetings.

The EDP launched its Save Our Stations campaign when it emerged a potential 25pc cut to the fire service budget could see 18 fire stations, although that was scaled back.

The Fire Brigades Union handed in a petition against the cuts, signed by about 12,000 people.

And the opposition Conservatives, who have a majority on the council's policy and resources committee – which has a crucial role in deciding where council money is directed – pledged to safeguard stations.

Tory group leader Cliff Jordan said: 'People in the affected areas have spoken loud and clear about their concerns.

'We give notice that we will put a stop to this neglect: we pledge to restore the front-line that is being severely damaged by the current administration.'

George Nobbs, leader of Norfolk County Council, said the chancellor's plan to allow a 2pc council tax rise to pay for social care was acknowledgement local authorities can no longer make savings by efficiencies.

He said money from that social care precept could negate the need to cut £5.1m from the Supporting People budget – money used to help people who are vulnerable or who have a disability, to live independently and to remain in their home.

Mr Nobbs previously said he

would not want to see the cuts to transport for older people and said he believed some of the proposals for children's services were 'counter productive'.

He said the administration had already been minded to keep Heacham fire station open and added he would personally not want to see cuts to the archaeological service.

Mr Nobbs stressed: 'It is a matter for individual committees which will be meeting this week.

'But let nobody be in any doubt that the council tax increase

which the chancellor has recommended every council should make does not solve the problem. We are still facing massive cuts in public funding'.

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