Revealed: Social care, mobile libraries, bus subsidies and school crossing patrols at risk as Norfolk County Council looks to make £140m of cuts
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2011
Swingeing cuts, which will hit some of the most vulnerable people in the county, have been proposed to help plug a £189m funding gap at Norfolk County Council.
Social care for older people, transport for students, mobile libraries, school crossing patrols and help for people just out of hospital are all in the firing line under proposals revealed today.
The axe is also hanging over more than 500 jobs at the county council, with 260 set to go next year and more in the years after that.
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Staffing in the fire service is also to be reviewed.
The council says the gap has been created by a £91m cut in the amount of money it gets from the government, against a backdrop of increased public demand on services.
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The proposals, which would save £140m over the next three years, have been revealed as the county council calls on the public to have their say in a consultation called Putting People First.
The council hopes to make some savings by working more closely with other organisations, but, if the cuts are approved, then hundreds of thousands of people will be affected.
The proposals include:
• Saving £2m by reducing subsidised bus travel for students aged 16 to 19.
• Cutting some people's personal social care budgets as part of plans to save £12m.
• Changing the way disabled people get care, which could mean some people may no longer get care provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
• Saving £17.6m by cutting the number of children in care – by putting in place services to prevent them ending up in care in the first place.
• Reducing how often mobile libraries call at some places and cutting staff in branch libraries to save £400,000.
• Spending £300,000 less on school crossing patrols.
• Cutting how much is spent on services which help people who have just got out of hospital on their return home, to save £3m.
• Stopping funding for school services such as the Healthy Norfolk Schools Programme and the Schools Wellbeing Service.
• Reduce subsidy for the Coasthopper bus service.
• For next year only, reducing maintenance on the county's highways by £1m.
• Saving £2.1m by reducing the number of adult care service users who get free transport to day services laid on by the county council.
• Stopping supplying and fitting free smoke detectors.
• Reducing opening hours at five recycling centres – Ashill, Heacham, Morningthorpe, Strumpshaw and Worstead – and charging £2 per visit to nine recycling centres.
• Closing Norfolk Record Office on Saturday mornings.
The cuts come just as a three-year-programme to make £140m of savings comes to an end.
George Nobbs, leader of Norfolk County Council, said: 'There really are going to have to be some very tough choices and it is going to be painful. We cannot defend some of these things. We know they are awful. But what we do defend is our need to set a balanced budget.
'We have taken out more than half of it from back office services. We cannot say we are happy about this, but some very harsh decisions have to be made.
'Nobody comes into public life wishing to cut services but, having found savings of £140m in recent years, there are no easy choices left to make.
'I'd ask people to look at the proposals and let us know what they think. If they have ideas of their own, and alternatives they would like us to explore, then we promise to listen carefully to what they have to say.
'This is a massive challenge and not something which is of anyone in Norfolk's making.'
Mr Nobbs stressed there were no plans to close fire stations, libraries or recycling centres, while winter gritting routes would not be hit.
With the council planning to freeze council tax next year, that will net the authority a £3m government grant, but it still leaves £46m of savings to find on top of the £140m.
The proposals will save just short of £65m in 2014/15.
Once the consultation process, which will last for 12 weeks, is finished, the feedback will be considered by county councillors at meetings during January.
The full council will then need to agree the full budget for 2014/15 next February.
Steve Morphew, cabinet member for finance, said; 'We've got a set of working proposals which will balance the books for the year ahead – and go a long way to bridging the gap for the following two years after that.
'We've looked hard at cutting our own costs and found savings of more than £74m.
'I know some of the proposals we are having to suggest will be difficult for people to live with and, given the choice, we'd prefer not to do them.
'We want to use the consultation period between now and December to canvass views. If we can come up with better ways of minimising the cuts we need to make, we will.'
With at least 520 jobs at Norfolk County Council at risk – 260 of them in the next year – council leaders said they would manage that process through a mixture of redundancies and natural wastage. They also said more council workers could be moved to work at County Hall, which is being refurbished.
The Conservatives have attacked Labour for 'messing up the county' and said they would have come up with better proposals had they been in power.
The Conservatives lost control of County Hall at May's elections, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats forming a cabinet, with support from UKIP.
And the Tories accused their successors of pulling the plug on proposals they claim would have headed off some cuts.
Cliff Jordan, shadow cabinet member for finance, corporate and personnel, said: 'I am concerned about the whole approach George Nobbs has.
'What he has done is take over the council with a hotch-potch alliance who have no idea what to do.
'He stopped our Enterprising Norfolk project, which has taken one of the legs away entirely from how we were planning to deal with this gap.
'They have created a bigger mess. They are all guilty of messing Norfolk up.'
But Toby Coke, UKIP leader, said the mess had been created by central government.
He said: 'I think this is the right way forward, because there's no real option other than to raise tax and that's simply not on.'
Richard Bearman, Green group leader, said he supported genuine consultation, but said his group would be challenging cuts that affect vulnerable people, particularly those with mental health issues.
Marie Strong, Liberal Democrat group leader, welcomed the consultation and urged people to make sure they had their say, before they regretted not doing so later.