County council sets its ‘most difficult’ budget

Warwickshire County Council
Warwickshire County Council

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Warwickshire County Council will face cuts as part of the authority’s plan to save £92 million by 2018.

A compromise has been agreed in setting out the authority’s budget, which will mean that the county’s remaining libraries will stay open and no further cuts will be made to children’s centres for the time being.

But the council is set to lose 600 staff as part of the money saving exercise imposed by smaller Government grants.

This could include up to 39 full time and 36 part-time firefighters, although a ‘collaboration’ with Herefordshire and Worcestershire Fire Service could reduce this number.

And redundancies are also possible for programmes and services which receive funding from the council.

These include children’s centres, which will start feeling the effect of a previously agreed 25 per cent cut in the summer, and the Supporting People programme - which supports some of the most vulnerable people in the county - which is facing a 48 per cent, or £4 million, cut to its funding from April 2015.

Council leader Cllr Izzi Seccombe said: “As everyone is aware the public sector has had to find an unprecedented level of savings and will continue to do so.

“We are just coming to the end of a financial plan which has seen the council save £70 million over the past three years and we are now facing an even bigger challenge.

“However, even against this backdrop, we are committed to developing and sustaining a society that looks after its most vulnerable members.

“We want to deliver appropriate, accessible and relevant quality services at the right time, while seeking opportunities for economic growth and innovation and our financial response ensures this.”

The compromise budget, put forward by the authority’s minority Conservative administration, included major concessions agreed with the Liberal Democrat group and proposals from the Labour group and was approved by a vote of 37 votes to 24 at Shire Hall in Warwick last Thursday. Deputy Tory leader Cllr Alan Cockburn has described the budget as the “most difficult” and “most important” in the council’s 125-year history.

Warwickshire’s most vulnerable people in a fair and balanced way for hardworking taxpayers.”

Earlier in the day, separate resolutions from the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrat Groups, and an amendment from the Green Party, had all been defeated, meaning that at least two of the main groups would need to reach a compromise before the council could set its budget.

Other cost saving measures include a £12.9 million cut to the transport budget, which includes special needs transport, over three years from 2015.

Parking charges will be introduced for county council staff using the Barrack Street, Cape Road and Saltisford car parks in Warwick - which is expected to save £240,000 over four years - while a reduction in the number of council buildings and their associated running costs from 2015 to 2018 is expected to save £3 million.

On-street parking charges are set to rise and parking enforcement is due to be privatised in a move which is expected to save about £1.4 million over three years from 2015.

Further down the line, from 2017, the budget for the overall public transport subsidy and re-tender services will be cut by £500,000.

The budget included the support of economic growth in the county with an investment of £38 million into a capital growth fund, savings of £505,000 for Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service in the next financial year through modernising and collaboration with other fire and rescue services, transforming adult social care services to save £17.9 million over four years, £16.3 million additional funding allocation to the council’s capital programme to maintain and develop assets to support service delivery, working with GPs and greater integration with the council’s health service partners to maximise and align available resources which will make substantial savings and investment in the region of £1 million into highway drainage and flood alleviation.

School crossing patrols have been protected despite earlier suggestions they would be scaled back to save money.

And as things stand there will be no closures of household waste recycling centres and protection of highway maintenance and gritting.

All parties’ proposals were based on a council tax increase of 1.99 per cent a year - which equates to 44p per week for a Band D property - and all set out to achieve total savings of £92 million - or 26 per cent - over a four year period.