Councillors Bracing Themselves For Spending Cuts

COUNCILLORS are bracing themselves for the inevitable public backlash when they announce Government-enforced cuts to local spending in the next few weeks.

COUNCILLORS are bracing themselves for the inevitable public backlash when they announce Government-enforced cuts to local spending in the next few weeks.

Cuts to services right across the public sector, including the police and fire services will be announced in the next few weeks after Chancellor George Osborne delivers his Comprehensive Government Spending Review on October 20.

Fire crews in Cambridgeshire have told the Ely Standard they are feeling anxious about what the budget reduction will mean, and outgoing police chief constable, Julie Spence, who retired after more than 30 years’ service recently, said she feared the Cambridgeshire force could be reduced to a ‘999’ emergency-only service if cuts of 40 per cent were imposed.

Fred Brown, the leader of East Cambs District Council, admitted this week that councillors were expecting to face some tough choices, but refused to be drawn on what specific areas or departments were under consideration as part of any cost-cutting exercise.

“I Think it was Ann Widdecombe who said we expect more from Government than we do from God and I couldn’t agree more, especially when you look at the expectations we have of councils, Mr Brown told the Ely Standard.

“Most councillors agree that the Spending Review will test their resolve in the coming months and that they will face some difficult choices,” he added.

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The Prime Minister’s Big Society has been vaulted as a part solution, but in reality is it just an opportunity to use the public’s goodwill to make up the shortfall and fill the funding gaps?

No, says Cllr Brown: “The localism agenda and the push toward the Big Society is gathering momentum and here in the best bit of Cambridgeshire we feel well placed to respond.

“It is clear that Government want councils to base their plans on local need and wishes, not a strategy which imposes rulings from on high. This is an ethos which has been central to our Masterplan process. From our point of view, we want to be one of the best small councils in England.

“Take our Neighbourhood Panels. In many ways there is nothing remotely radical about them. Yet in our mainly rural setting in East Cambridgeshire, they’ve been incredibly effective, particularly in tackling the sorts of issues which have bedevilled some of our communities like speeding, low level anti-social behaviour and fly tipping.”

East Cambridgeshire District Council received a �10.74 million budget for the last financial year. Councillors and officers will find out what departments face cuts after the Spending Review and in December the council will received notification of its grant settlement.

Cllr Brown, however, remains pragmatic about the challenges that lay ahead.

“Once the Government makes its announcement later this month – we will all have a truer understanding of the state of the nation’s belt-tightening. All local authorities, including East Cambridgeshire, will have to fundamentally address the services they provide. These are, no doubt difficult times, but it is clear to us in the district that the best way to proceed is to work with our partners to help those who are most in need.”