Council leader says helping Norfolk people take more control of their lives could help plug £125m budget gap
- Credit: Archant
People in Norfolk need to be helped to take more control over their lives, as cuts and savings restrict the services the county council can provide, say County Hall leaders who need to save £125m.
Cliff Jordan, Conservative leader of Norfolk County Council, said he hoped the public would be spared the worst of the pain, although the council has yet to reveal the full details of where the savings will be made.
But he said County Hall was likely to have fewer staff, while services would be provided from fewer buildings. He said libraries and children's centres could share buildings.
While the full details of how the council intends to make savings has not been revealed, Mr Jordan said the council will be staging reviews of services over the next two years, as part of a drive called Norfolk Futures.
The council has already made clear it believes money can be saved by encouraging people to remain in their own homes for longer, rather than ending up in costly residential care, with the help of voluntary services.
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And it is looking to reduce the number of children in care by helping families stay together.
Mr Jordan said: 'There will be some pain, there's no question about that. We are going to start seeing the squeeze maybe in the fourth year, but we are hoping we can mitigate that.
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'I am hoping they [the public] won't see it, but the authority will, in terms of the numbers that work here and the output will be down. How the services are delivered will be different.
'What I want to do is stop people from going into care homes too early. I don't want to see people in their mid 70s going in, I want to see them at home, with help.
'We want communities looking after themselves as best they can. I like to look after myself and do things that support me and my family. If there's anything wrong in my family, the phone goes. That's family and that's what I want to recreate. I think some of that has been lost.
'What we want to do is try to keep people in their own houses and be masters of their own destiny.'
Over the next week, committees will, as part of the process of setting a budget for next year, start to discuss savings. A 4.9pc increase in council tax is planned.
Not all the savings for the years ahead will be outlined now, but Mr Jordan said: 'We have got a plan for each year and if everything pans out we have got it covered.'
The lack of detail about the specific cuts and savings which need to be made in the years ahead has been criticised by opposition leaders at County Hall.
Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group, said: 'The lack of detail is worrying and frustrating.
'The Conservatives are doing a lot of work behind the scenes and breaking with our recent process of being inclusive with all the budget preparation.
'People need to be suspicious because we know this amount of money cannot come out of any system without hurting people.'
And Dan Roper, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: 'This is total spin. They seem to be saying there will be no cuts to services at all.
'The Tories need to have the courage to have an honest conversation with the people of Norfolk about the cuts they will inevitably be making.'
The council says ideas to save money include:
• Create council service points - offering services under one roof in places people need them most such as Norwich, Great Yarmouth, King's Lynn and market towns. That would enable little-used buildings to be closed and sold.
• Focus on getting help to families earlier to reduce the number of children ending up in care.
• Promote independence for vulnerable adults. That could see thresholds for eligibility for council care changed, as the council looks to cut its costs •
Commercialisation - the council says it will 'sweat its assets' to maximise return on investment
• Build and sell homes, including encouraging development on council land
• Get more council services online and drive the creation of better broadband and mobile phone technology
• Make it easier for people to find information and point people to voluntary services.
Council leader Cliff Jordan fought back tears as he revealed his own experience of having to put his 93-year-old mother, who has dementia, into care.
Mr Jordan said: 'We tried to keep her as we best we could in the house, as she was happier. In the end, we had to send her to a home.
'The first thing she said when we went into see her was 'Can I come home now?' and that really affected me. And I think all families are the same. They want to do the best for their family and we need to help them to do that.'
Mr Jordan said the council wanted to help families to stay together as long as possible. He acknowledged that would save the council money, but said people would benefit from retaining their independence.
He said: 'How I would put it is enable families to stay closer together by helping them to stay closer together, rather than taking one out and putting them in a home.'