No end to cuts at Suffolk County Council

Suffolk County Council's Endeavour House headquarters. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN.

Suffolk County Council's Endeavour House headquarters. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN. - Credit: Archant

There is no sign of an end to years of council austerity – and no indication of when authorities might be able to ease up on the quest for more cuts.

That was the bleak assessment to members of Suffolk County Council's scrutiny committee by leader Colin Noble and finance spokesman Richard Smith during an all-day examination of proposals to cut £24m from its budget next year.

Mr Smith admitted: 'As far as public sector spending is concerned I feel we are in a long tunnel with no pinprick of light at the end.'

He said it was clear from government spending proposals that the squeeze on spending would continue – but Suffolk was in a much better position than many other authorities.

He said: 'We will have to go into our reserves. But we have resisted that until the last two years, so we are much further from the edge than many other authorities. Some are right up at the precipice.'

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He was responding to a question from backbench Conservative Stuart Bird who pointed out that the council was still planning to spend more than it had coming in – despite putting up general council tax by nearly two per cent and putting on three per cent for social care.

Mr Smith also told Audit Committee chair James Reeder that the authority was trying to get more out of its assets, by setting up wholly-owned companies like Vertas and Concertus to compete with private sector companies. They brought in £2.6m in profits to the council.

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But he said: 'I don't think we are going to be buying shopping centres as an investment. I know some districts and boroughs do see that as a way of providing an income but it is not an option for county councils.'

The main area to have savings in this year's budget is adult and community services – it is the largest element of the county's £500m budget.

It is losing £11m from its administration but its overall budget is set to increase by at least £3m because of increased demand for its services from an increasingly old and frail population.

One area the council has saved on this year is the consultation process before the budget. Mr Smith said it was not felt necessary this year because the Tory administration saw this year's election as an endorsement of its spending plans.

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