Bid to stave off threat of redundancies at council is voted down

PUBLISHED: 10:19 28 February 2014 | UPDATED: 10:19 28 February 2014

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A last-minute amendment to East Cambridgeshire District Council’s budget in a bid halt more than 20 redundancies was rejected last night as tempers frayed at a meeting of full council.

Liberal Democrats, led by Cllr Gareth Wilson, pleaded with their Conservative counterparts to transfer more than £1.2million earmarked for an infrastructure reserve over the next two years into the council’s savings budget, to stave off the immediate threat of some 23 redundancies.

But the motion was voted down by the Conservative group, despite the Lib Dems being backed by the five-strong group of independent councillors.

The meeting was picketed by members of public services trade union UNISON, several of whom walked out in protest when the Conservative vote was taken.

Conservative leader, Cllr James Palmer, said: “Im certainly not going to run away from my responsibilities to taxpayers. I’m very proud of this budget and we are not going to risk the future by committing this council to long-term borrowing at great expense.”

The council’s finance chief Linda Grinell said that prudent action by the council over the last four years had meant that the 2014/15 budget had been balanced with no need for further cuts and no increase in Council Tax.

But she added that uncertainties remained over the future, with the council potentially having to find savings of £3.4million to present a balanced budget in 2017/18.

Liberal Democrats applauded the council’s finance team for their efforts to balance the budget but argued that any surplus cash generated from the New Homes Bonus should be used in the short term to prevent redundancies and buy the council more time to discuss all aspects of the budget.

Cllr Gareth Wilson said: “By moving this reserve money, it gives us a little bit more time to think about this. Must members have not really had enough time to examine what is going to happen.

“Within these proposals are some very big risks and we just don’t know what is going to happen. The problem is three years away, we don’t have to look at this now or rush into a decision.

“The staff here are very, very worried about their positions and they are worried how East Cambs is going to be able to provide the high quality of service that we all need.”

And unaligned councillor Ian Allen added: “I think it is ridiculous that we are putting this money away in some un-named pot to be used whenever the council feels like it and I am heartily sick of people saying they are doing this for ‘hard-working people’.

“What about members of staff at this council, are they not hard working?”

But the Lib Dem fears were dismissed by Conservatives, who said their budget was aimed to helping tax payers.

Cllr Bill Hunt said: “I think we are doing the right thing. We are being prudent and careful and I applaud the finance team for their work.”

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