Opposition to Norfolk cuts made very clear

The strength of feeling against controversial plans to cut funding for services to support vulnerable adults was plain to see at a packed council meeting yesterday.

Members of Norfolk County Council's community services overview and scrutiny panel met to consider plans to cut funding for adult social care by nearly �80m in the next three years and hear details of the response to the Big Conversation proposals.

The proposals are aimed at reshaping the council in the years to come and also help bridge a �155m funding gap in the next three years in the wake of government cuts in public spending.

Members of the public also turned up in force at the meeting where concerns were raised from representatives of Age UK Norwich, the Norfolk Older People's Forum, and individual service users.

The Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People and the Benjamin Foundation had also each produced DVDs which they hoped could be viewed at the meeting detailing their concerns. A 1,187-signature petition opposing the care cuts plans was also handed in by Green councillor Stephen Little, while Age UK Norfolk presented a cake to the council as part of its 'Cut Cake, not Care' campaign.

Of the responses received it was clear that there was overwhelming opposition to the three most controversial proposals: cutting �18m funding for preventative services, withdrawing the �1.2m funding for the sensory support service, and tightening up the eligibility criteria for those people receiving care to critical only.

The council received more than 1,800 responses to plans to tighten up the eligibility criteria rules, with a majority opposing the idea amid fears it would prove a false economy and put more pressure on carers and the health service. There were also 1,600 responses to plans to scrap the sensory services unit with the majority of people against the idea. The majority of the 1,600 responses to plans to cut funding for preventative services were also opposed to the idea.

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Phil Wells, chief executive of Age UK Norwich, said it was wrong for the council to cut spending on preventative services at a time when costs would increase because of greater demand.

'How are you going to reduce costs with a rising population if you do not invest in this, it's upside down,' he said. 'I understand the problems they have got, but they are going about it in the wrong way.'

Shelagh Gurney said: 'The big issue to come to me is about the change in the eligibility criteria, people are very worried about it.'

Harold Bodmer, director of adult social services, said the changes to the eligibility criteria did not mean that people would automatically lose their services, and there would be advice and support in place for those who did.

'We need to be very clear that by removing a service from somebody we do not make their needs critical, because we would have to provide a service anyway,' he said.

Meanwhile, libraries could reduce their opening hours in a bid to save costs after proposals to cut staff, recruit more volunteers and increase the use of self-service machines for borrowing books were given an overwhelming thumbs down.

Norfolk County Council had envisaged saving �1.2m over the next three years by cutting the numbers of library staff.

But every one of the 17 responses received about the idea was against.

Proposals put forward instead by respondents included charging for downloading e-books, charging young people to use computers if not for school work, charging for photcopying, stocking fewer copies of books, and reducing the number of managers and sharing them between branches.

Councillors were told yesterday the reduced opening hours would now be considered.

Others changes could include tweaking mobile library routes which would save �47,000, while cutting the number of newer books purchased would save �150,000 over three years.

James Carswell, cabinet member for cultural services, said the amended proposals were proof the authority was listening and he was pleased to receive ideas on how to protect the service.

'We put forward proposals such as having more volunteers, but we will be taking forward the comments that have come back about the opening and closing times of libraries as an idea to make savings,' he said.