CUTS of £92 million over the next four years, 600 job losses and a 1.99 per cent increase in council tax for 2014-15.
These are the draconian measures that have been thrashed out by members of Warwickshire County Council in what’s being described as the most difficult budget in the 125-year history of the authority.
This week the Conservatives – who rule the county council as a minority administration – were claiming that the budget negotiated between themselves and the Liberal Democrats was in the best interests of Warwickshire.
But Labour, which is the second biggest party on the council, claimed that the cuts agreed by the so-called “ConDems” would hit the most vulnerable people in the county.
The Conservatives, however, were maintaining quite the opposite. Cllr Izzi Seccombe (Cons, Stour and the Vale), the leader of the council, declared: “This has been the most difficult task I have faced in my years as a councillor.
“Councils across the country have faced unprecedented pressures as the government gets to grip with Labour’s legacy of debt and deficit, but we have been able to put in place a budget that is in the best interests of Warwickshire and which protects our most vulnerable residents.
“We have protected services for our elderly and our children and ensured that no libraries will close whilst also continuing to invest in our transport infrastructure and invest in schemes to continue the county’s impressive record of recent economic growth.”
The Lib Dems echoed this message of having achieved the best results for the county in the face of harsh economic circumstances – and they, also, took a swipe at Labour.
Their leader, Cllr Jerry Roodhouse (Lib Dem, Rugby), said: “It was clear from the outset that Labour were not interested in reaching an agreement with us or the Conservatives.
“There were many aspects of the Labour budget that we found unacceptable, in particular their plan to close household waste recycling centres in places like Kenilworth or Shipston, and the major cuts they proposed in highway maintenance.”
Cllr Roodhouse said the Lib Dems had protected school crossing patrols, secured a major new investment of £2.5 million in Safer Routes to School and School Safety Zones and ensured there would be no further library closures.
He said the Lib Dems had also removed any further cuts to children’s centre budgets for at least three years, as well as a planned first year cut in the Supporting People programme.
Cllr Roodhouse added: “We’ve won a £1 million investment in energy efficient LED street lighting to accelerate the replacement programme. We’ve achieved greater ongoing capacity for the voluntary sector, and a £50,000 cut in members’ expenses and catering costs.”
But Cllr June Tandy (Lab, Nuneaton), the leader of the Labour group, claimed the Lib Dems had “formed a coalition with the Tories” to push through cuts to the people who really needed the county council’s services.
Cllr Tandy said: “Cuts to the fire service, such as not going out to business alarms, no longer supplying and fitting smoke alarms free of charge, provision of fire safety and arson protection and crewing of the small fire unit at Bedworth, were all reinstated in the Labour budget but were not supported.
“There was no support from either the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats for the Labour proposal to switch the street lights back on until a better solution could be found.”
Cllr Tandy concluded: “All in all this was not a good day for the people of Warwickshire under this new coalition, but rest assured the Labour group will continue the work they have started to ensure any cuts made by the ConDems affect the people we represent as little as possible.”
Major points of the budget include:
Investment of £38 million into a capital growth fund to help boost the county’s economy
Savings of £505,000 from Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service over the next year through “modernising”, and collaboration with other fire and rescue services
Transformation of adult social care services to save £17.9 million over four years
Additional funding of £16.3 million for the county’s capital programme to maintain and develop assets to support service delivery
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