‘Sham’ claim as public set to have say on millions of pounds of County Council cuts

Community librarian roles are under threat because of council cuts. Picture: James Bass

Community librarian roles are under threat because of council cuts. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press � 2012

A consultation over millions of pounds of savings and cuts to services in Norfolk will start next week - despite an accusation by opposition councillors that it will be a 'sham'.

Norfolk County Council needs to save £125m over the next four years and has a string of proposals which would see it spend less on services.

The controlling Conservatives say that co-locating services such as libraries, children's centres and day centres will help save money.

Other proposals include cutting half a million from subsidies and grants for bus services, backroom savings and reducing spending on highways maintenance.

But opposition councillors slammed what they said was lack of detail in the proposals.

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One of the most contentious proposals is to halve spending on the county's 53 children's centres from £10m to £5m - possibly through basing them in other council-owned properties.

But the council has not said which of the centres could be affected, or who would still be able to use the services.

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Steve Morphew, leader of the opposition Labour group, said: 'If the cut is going to be £10m to £5m and there's 53 at the moment, what's the assumption on how many will be left?'

Matt Dunkley, interim director of children's services, said the council was working with the providers it commissions to run the centres to reduce costs, with contracts due to be retendered in 2019 and there would be more detail in January, following those discussions.

But Mr Morphew said: 'I hear the management speak, but we don't have the answers to questions we are going to get from families who say 'what's going to happen to services we currently get?''

Conservative leader Cliff Jordan said Mr Morphew's glass was half empty, while his was half full.

He said: 'The fact we are trying to amalgamate things should save money. It should mean as good a service, if not better.

'It's not just about cuts, it's about trying to do things as efficiently as we can.

'We know we are not going to get as much money and we are trying to get the best we can for people.'

But Liberal Democrat leader Dan Roper said: 'You could call this a sham consultation. We are saying to the people of Norfolk 'you have to agree these cuts or we don't have a budget' as there's no other alternatives being presented.'

Deputy leader Alison Thomas said neither Labour or the Lib Dems had put forward any alternatives.

And Mr Jordan, who will hold a roadshow over the proposals in Mattishall next Tuesday night, said, with the budget to be set in February, the public would be listened to.

He said: 'We have got plenty of time to get things dead right.

'I want it done right and I want the people of Norfolk to believe they have had influence on what happens.'

Councillors at today's meeting of County Hall's policy and resources committee agreed to put the proposals forward into the budget planning process and to start the public consultation process on Monday.

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