Suffolk public service cuts set to win approval

HOUSEHOLDERS in Suffolk will see county hall's share of their council tax bills frozen next year.

But almost all the spending cuts proposed by Suffolk County Council - including those affecting school crossing patrols, bus service subsidies and library funding - are expected to be confirmed at two crucial meetings next month.

The county council's cabinet meets next Tuesday to consider its budget for 2011/12. It is being asked to go ahead with a series of cuts.

None of the controversial proposals that were outlined last month have been withdrawn – although the council has set up a �1.7m contingency fund to allow some services to continue while attempts are made to find alternative operators to take them over.

This means the council is going ahead with proposals to axe the school crossing patrol service – including 14 posts in Lowestoft and four in Beccles and Bungay – although there are hopes that this could be saved by commercial sponsors.

It is also poised to press ahead with proposals to cut subsidies to rural bus services by more than half, leaving a number of rural routes in Waveney under threat - among them the 520, 522, 523 and 524 linking Southwold with Beccles and Halesworth.

The meals on wheels service will lose its council subsidy and the county will go ahead with changes to the fire service.

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It will also go ahead with making �350,000 of cuts to the library service by 'divesting' them to communities – a process which, as the Journal reported last week, has put a question mark over 29 of the county's 44 libraries including Oulton Broad, Kessingland, and Southwold.

Seven of the county's 18 household waste recycling centres are expected to close, and opening times at others are set to be cut.

However, the decision to freeze council tax bills was never in doubt : the Government offered the council a �7.2m incentive to do so, meaning that it would have had to impose a huge council tax rise to make up for the revenue it would have lost.

County council deputy leader Jane Storey said the level of funding made available to the county council had been 'significantly reduced' by central government. 'We remain committed to protecting the vulnerable people across Suffolk as well as supporting the local economy but we have to make savings of more than �40m by the end of March 2011,' he said. 'We continue to work to identify savings through streamlining the workforce and by reducing levels of bureaucracy, to minimise the impact on frontline services in the county.'

Opposition leader Kathy Pollard criticised the plans. She said: 'This budget is an attack on rural life with the reductions to public transport subsidies and library services. They are taking away things that people find most valuable in their lives.

Labour group leader Sandy Martin was disappointed, but not surprised, that there had been no changes in the budget plans.

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