Norwich council leader warns about 'massacre of services'

Sarah HallThe leader of Norwich City Council has warned that Government belt-tightening could have massive repercussions on the city - including a potential 'massacre of services'.Sarah Hall

The leader of Norwich City Council has warned that Government belt-tightening could have massive repercussions on the city - including a potential 'massacre of services'.

With the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition to announce �6bn of savings Steve Morphew, Labour leader at City Hall today said the worst case scenario for Norwich could see plans to build thousands of affordable homes in the city grind to a halt and the council forced to axe services.

Eric Pickles, the new communities secretary, has wasted no time in ordering civil servants to find ways of halting the proposed creation of a unitary council in Norwich and Mr Morphew said he feared that would be followed by severe cuts in the amount of money local councils get from Whitehall.

While the coalition government's first masterplan, which included ensuring super-fast broadband is rolled out, boosts for tourism and that a national high speed rail network for the whole of Britain, was roundly welcomed in Norfolk, Mr Morphew said he was worried local councils could bear the brunt of cuts.

Mr Morphew, who has led a minority Labour administration at City Hall for the past four years and was elected leader again last week warned cutting 10pc of the council's budget equated to �7m, so the worst case scenario could see the council have to abandon discretionary services.

He said: 'We have already made efficiencies, but this could lead to a full scale massacre of services. There is not much wiggle room given what we have taken out in efficiencies already.

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'If you look at the absolute minimum we have to provide, then that's the statutory things like emptying bins.

'We wouldn't want to, but we could take away discretionary services such as the wardens and the patrols in parks. We could get rid of the extra hour we just reinstated for bus pass holders.

'We want to lead this city out of the recession and that is what we need to be able to do. Everybody knows you need to invest money to do that.'

The city council last year signed a pioneering long-term agreement with the Homes and Communities Agency which will see the HCA invest �7.5m into the city, while the council provides sites for about 1,300 affordable homes. Surplus from the sale and rent of those homes would be pumped back into the city and is predicted to raise around �70m.

But Mr Morphew fears the HCA could be abolished under the new government and the long-term partnership, which has already secured the money to rebuild the memorial gardens, could crumble.

The future of the East of England Development Agency - which drives economic growth in the region - is also unclear, with business secretary Vince Cable last week saying it was difficult to justify such organisations in prosperous areas.

Caroline Williams, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: 'The government's position that as the East of England has a strong business community it needs less funding is not only naive but dangerous.

'The government needs to invest in success and not disadvantage this region or our growth potential will not be reached.'

David Laws, chief secretary to the Treasury, said the axe would fall in line with 'progressive values' and that key services and vulnerable people would be protected.

The Liberal Democrat added that 'aggressive' cuts were needed to bring down the �163bn budget deficit and added: 'I'm mentally prepared for getting a lot of representations from angry people about reductions in budget.'