Suffolk communities try to stay positive

COMMUNITIES, charities and volunteer groups say they must respond positively and look forward after Suffolk County Council backed a �42.5million package of public service cuts.

Members took six hours to agree the 2011/12 budget on Thursday night, which included the axeing of a range of services over the coming months.

The changes include the end of school crossing patrols, and cuts to the library service in advance of the 'divestment' of 29 out of 44 branches from next year.

Jonathan Moore, chief executive of the Suffolk Association of Voluntary Organisations, said the changes had been well detailed in advance and there needed to be a certain amount of realism in the way people responded.

He said: 'The harsh reality is coming into focus. Voluntary and community groups are going to have to do more, generate more services, help more people and pick up where the county council is walking away.

'This is at a time when there is a great concern over grants and funding going to community voluntary groups so it is a double-whammy. But at the same time, there is a steely determination to try to make the best of things.'

The association has more than 5,500 members and offers support and advice to help them run effectively on limited budgets.

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Mr Moore said town and parish councils now had to 'step up to the mark' and support communities where public services were being lost.

He added: 'Voluntary groups have a strong tradition of good husbandry and will spend their resources in the best ways possible.'

Dr Wil Gibson is the chief executive of Suffolk ACRE, a charitable organisation aimed at tackling the economic, social and environmental needs of communities.

He said he was 'anxious' about the future for rural Suffolk communities that were already reliant on limited services and would now be under extra strain.

He said: 'We are anxious, particularly for rural communities, because when you have very limited services in the first place to lose any more and have service downgraded has a disproportionate impact in the community.

'We want to look forward and what Suffolk ACRE has been doing is talking to the council. We will help communities identify alternative solutions to come up with different services to make them viable again.

'This is going to come next year and the year after. The majority of our spending locally isn't raised locally and I don't think people realise that.'

The council says it is making the savings to address a 28pc reduction in the county's funding from central government.

Jeremy Pembroke, leader of the county council, said: 'During our consultations, communities told us they would be interested in running council services but they needed more time. We have listened.

'That's why we agreed a �1.7m transition fund to buy time for communities and the voluntary sector to come forward with proposals.'

He said the transition fund would reduce the immediate impact of the savings and give other organisations and community groups the opportunity to take over some of Suffolk's services and that the council had already welcomed offers of sponsorship for school safety patrols and is encouraging more companies to come forward.

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