Suffolk County Council cuts: Listen to us plea

A CRUNCH meeting to decide the fate of threatened public services in Waveney takes place next week – with campaigners urging county councillors not to ignore the 'strength of feeling' over a package of proposed cuts.

Council members will meet on Thursday to vote on the authority's controversial budget, which has prompted angry protests over proposals to axe or reduce funding for a raft of services, including Oulton Broad, Kessingland, and Southwold libraries, school crossing patrols, care homes, bus services, youth clubs and the use of the Explorer travel card for youngsters.

But with a Journal survey of Waveney's 13 county councillors suggesting that some of them remain undecided on which way they will vote, community leaders made a final plea this week for them to 'listen' to public opinion.

Next week's meeting will consider a recommendation to approve spending cuts of �43m in the first year of a three-year austerity programme. Its most controversial element is a plan to save �174,000-a-year by scrapping all 60 school crossing patrol staff, including 14 in Lowestoft.

Last week, ahead of a council cabinet meeting, the Lowestoft and Waveney's lollipop men and women handed in petitions with more than 4,300 signatures to Guy McGregor, councillor with responsibility for transport. More than 10,000 letters from other parts of Suffolk were also handed in to the authority last week to highlight the support for calls to save the crossing patrols.

Despite this, the cabinet approved the budget, subject to the full council's approval.

This week, the 12 Conservative county councillors who serve wards in Waveney sent a letter to The Journal insisting they were doing all they could to help: 'We are working hard with our local communities, parish and town councils to achieve local funding for the local school crossing patrols to continue outside the control of Suffolk County Council after the summer term.'

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Crossing patrol worker Lian Shepherd, from Carlton Colville, who has led campaigns against the cuts, said last week's cabinet decision was 'disappointing' but she vowed to 'speak from the heart' at Thursday's full council budget meeting.

'This is not about us, and our jobs, it is about safety,' she said. 'Just last week one of of our lollipop men was knocked down by a car and he is likely to be off work for some time – that outlines without us being there the chances of a child being hurt are extremely high... The volume of traffic, which use the roads now make it extremely irresponsible for councillors to cut this service: it will only cost someone their lives.'

Last weekend, protests were staged across Suffolk as part of a national day of action to save libraries - as the county council prepared to slash 30pc from its books' budget. With a three-month consultation under way to see if community or voluntary groups will step forward to take over 29 out of 44 of its libraries – including Oulton Broad, Kessingland, Bungay and Southwold – feelings were running high.

Waveney MP Peter Aldous was at Bungay Library along with hundreds of local people to support the facility.

'I think when you look at the amount of people here it is very indicative of how important the library is to the community,' Mr Aldous said. 'For my part I am very keen and actually determined that this library should remain open.'

Meanwhile, about 30 young people attended a Waveney District Council and youth council 'Money Talks' event on Tuesday with some 'strong views' being expressed, according to the chairman of the Waveney Youth Council, Ryan Holt, from Corton.

With nine youth clubs in Waveney likely to be closed or handed over to voluntary groups, the county council approved plans in November to to set up a 'divestment fund' to shut three venues within Lowestoft and others within the district within the next year.

'The young people present gave the councillors their views on the cuts and how they need to consult as they are the future,' Ryan said. 'The strong message stemmed around the closure of youth clubs as many feel that there will be more anti-social behaviour and crime will rise across Lowestoft if these clubs are shut. The Explorer card, which the county council may cut, is also vital to young people as it gives them discounts on travel and school equipment – it is something that should not be going at all,' he said.

Many communities look set to lose bus services as the council cuts back its subsidies for a number of routes, including serveral in rural Waveney, and Rod Lock, secretary of the East Suffolk Travellers' Association, confirmed yesterday that members had met recently with the county council about the issue, as well as with the pressure group Passenger Focus.

The county council unveiled its New Strategic Direction last year, saying its services had to be 'delivered differently in the future,' as it and other local authorities seek to balance their books in the face of big cuts in central government funding.

The council report states: 'Democracy means the role of the local county councillor will become more important; Divestment means that some council services which are currently delivered by the council will be delivered outside of the organisation through social enterprises, charities, community organisations and the private sector; Community capacity means giving communities more say and choice over services by delegating budgets and transferring assets.'

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