Suffolk council shake-up approved

Members of Suffolk County Council yesterday approved controversial moves that could lead to the authority selling off most, or even all, its services.

The full meeting of the council approved the 'New Strategic Direction' drawn up by chief executive Andrea Hill.

That will lead to the county 'divesting' itself of services – handing them over to charities, businesses, or 'social enterprise bodies' which would have contracts with the rump of the council.

What is left will be an 'enabling authority' which could employ as just a few hundred contract managers.

Among the first services to be divested could be libraries, highways services, children's services, and country parks – a final decision on what will be the first services to go will be made later in the year.

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The meeting also heard a warning that some services that no one else wants to take on could be abandoned altogether as the council struggles to make costs.

Council leader Jeremy Pembroke told the meeting: 'The question is: how do we improve outcomes for people in Suffolk while receiving a smaller revenue grant from the government?

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'We need to be bold, imaginative and to recognise the benefit in enabling services to be delivered from outside the authority.'

But Liberal Democrat deputy leader David Wood feared the changes were being introduced too quickly.

He said: 'What consultation have we had with staff? What are we doing to allay their concerns?'

Green group leader Andrew Stringer proposed an amendment calling for further discussion at December's meeting.

He said this would give the public a chance to comment on the proposed changes.

The administration accepted the amendment with a slight alteration.

Today's meeting effectively gives the authority the green light to continue making its plans for the future.

The exact extent of the council's budget cuts will not become clear until after the government publishes its comprehensive spending assessment at the end of next month.

Today's vote came despite councillors being urged by Trades Unionists outside the building to reject the proposals which it is feared could lead to thousands of job losses.

The authority is expected to face cuts of 25 per cent – and in its non-schools budget the cuts could be more than 30pc.

That has prompted fears that up to 4,000 of the 12,000 non-schools jobs at the county could ultimately be under threat over a period of years.

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