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Norwich could still be hard hit by the cuts

PUBLISHED: 13:00 22 January 2011

County council cuts could still hit Norwich hard

County council cuts could still hit Norwich hard

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Vulnerable people in Norwich could still be hard hit by plans to cut £60m from county council services in the coming year, it was claimed today, despite moves to row back from some of the most controversial proposals.

Norfolk County Council’s ruling cabinet is due to approve the proposals which will a range of service cuts, increased fees and up to 1,000 jobs axed in the next 12 months.

In Norwich, changes include reducing the frequency of park-and-ride bus services and closing the toilets on each of the six sites, fares are also due to rise by 10pc.

Libraries could also have reduced opening hours with job cuts also expected while museum admission prices are going to rise.

But there is particular concern about plans to close the specialist Unthank Family Centre, in Unthank Road, which was set up to help crisis hit families stay together and resolve their difficulties.

County Hall says the cuts are inevitable because of the financial crisis and the cuts in government grant which have left the authority with a £155m funding black hole in the next three years.

But members of Unison are to hold a demonstration before the cabinet meeting on Monday.

And Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council, also said there were questions over whether the county had really carried out a U-turn and it was still unclear whether support for some of the city’s sheltered housing schemes, and road schemes in the area would be hit

“We have come to the conclusion that it hides as much as it reveals,” Mr Morphew said. “What seems to be the case with the prevention budget is that it doesn’t look as if it’s turning around the cuts, it looks like the new NHS money.

“It’s not true to say they aren’t going to make a cut, if anything it’s money being replaced by the NHS and we are not quite sure what for. If that’s true, it’s a con.”

But city MP Chloe Smith said the council had listened to the concerns raised about proposed changes to social care.

“That was also something I lobbied the county council on, people were very about that and I think they have made exactly the right decision,” she said.

Jonathan Dunning, Norfolk Unison branch secretary, said the protest aimed to highlight both the cuts and jobs issues, and he said the union had also not ruled out taking industrial action in protest at the cuts.

“It’s getting across the strength of feeling that exists,” Mr Dunning said. “What we are talking about is cuts to public services first and foremost and the knock-on effect of that on members jobs. We are hoping cabinet members will talk to the demonstrators.

“There’s a recognition on all sides that nobody wants to be making these cuts. Where the difference of opinion lies is that the current administration of Norfolk County Council sees the cuts as an inevitable necessity, whereas our view is that there are range of alternatives and the coalition government shouldn’t be forcing local authorities to make such huge cuts as they are.

Ian Mackie, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance, said: “When we launched the Big Conversation last October, I made it clear that we would be listening hard and focusing on the priorities of our most vulnerable residents - that is exactly what we have done.

“The financial strategy which has been outlined not only provides a balanced budget for 2011/12, but also puts into place a mechanism to deliver further savings and financial stability over the medium term. The reduction in government grants and rising costs are not only for 2011/12, so in planning this budget we needed to be mindful for what is yet to come.

“Part of the package of proposals will see a considerable drop in the amount we borrow to support our capital programme, thereby reducing our borrowing costs and ensuring a sustainable level of spend. The simple fact is that there is less money around and we cannot afford to burden future generations with the costs of today. That inevitably means people may have to wait longer for schemes we would all like to go ahead.

“Of course, our efforts to work ever more efficiently will continue and part of that programme must involve sharing services with other councils and by placing better procurement at the heart of what we do. Some significant progress is being made, but I want to stress that real savings can be achieved by councils and other public bodies working together to provide services and I am sure much more will be done in the year ahead.”

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