Warwickshire County Council budget: libraries to stay open and no further cuts to children’s centres after compromise is reached

Warwickshire County Council
Warwickshire County Council

A compromise has been agreed in setting out Warwickshire County Council’s four-year budget which will mean that remaining libraries will stay open and no further cuts will be made to children’s centres for the time being.

But the authority is set to lose 600 staff across its services in a programme of job cuts as part of cost-cutting measures.

This could include up to 39 full time and 36 part-on, or on call, firefighters although a ‘collaboration’ with Hereford and Worcester Fire Service could reduce this number.

And redundancies are also likely for programmes and services which receive funding from the council.

These include children’s centres, which will start feeling the effect of a previously agreed 25 per cent cut in the summer, and the Supporting People programme - which supports some of the most vulnerable people in the county - which is facing a 48 per cent, or £4 million, cut to its funding from April 2015.

Council leader Cllr Izzi Seccombe said: “As everyone is aware the public sector has had to find an unprecedented level of savings and will continue to do so.

“We are just coming to the end of a financial plan which has seen the council save £70 million over the past three years and we are now facing an even bigger challenge.

“However, even against this backdrop, we are committed to developing and sustaining a society that looks after its

most vulnerable members.

“We want to deliver appropriate, accessible and relevant quality services at the right time, while seeking opportunities for economic growth and innovation and our financial response ensures this.”

The compromise budget, put forward by the authority’s minority Conservative administration, included major concessions agreed with the Liberal Democrat group and proposals from the Labour group and was approved by a vote of 37 votes to 24 at Shire Hall in Warwick on Thursday.

Deputy Tory leader Cllr Alan Cockburn has described the budget as the “most important” in the council’s 125-year history.

Cllr Cockburn said: “The Conservative Group put politics aside to work in the best interests of all of Warwickshire’s hardworking families and incorporated both Liberal Democrat and Labour proposals into the final budget.

“These are very challenging times, and public services must be reshaped due to financial constraints, but I believe

that by incorporating ideas from the other political groups into our proposals we have created a fair and balanced

budget for Warwickshire.

“The fact that 95 per cent of our initial budget proposals were passed shows that we took the lead in protecting

Warwickshire’s most vulnerable people in a fair and balanced way for hardworking taxpayers.”

Earlier in the day, separate resolutions from the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrat Groups, and an amendment from the Green Party, had all been defeated, meaning that at least two of the main groups would need to reach a compromise before the council could set its budget.

Other cost saving measures include a £12.9 million cut to the transport budget, which includes road repairs and special needs transport, over three years from 2015.

Parking charges will be introduced for county council staff using the Barrack Street, Cape Road and Saltisford car parks in Warwick, which is expected to save £240,000 over four years while a reduction in the number of council buildings and their associated running costs from 2015 to 2018 is expected to save £3 million.

On street parking charges are set to rise and parking enforcement is due to be privatised in a move which is expected to save about £1.4 million over three years from 2015.

Further down the line, from 2017, the budget for the overall public transport subsidy and re-tender services will be cut by £500,000.

The budget included the support of economic growth in the county with an investment of £38 million into a capital growth fund, which will also support invest to save projects, savings of £505,000 for Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service in the next financial year through modernising and collaboration with other fire and rescue services, transforming adult social care services to save £17.9 million over four years, £16.3 million additional funding allocation to the council’s capital programme to maintain and develop assets to support service delivery, working with GPs and greater integration with the council’s health service partners to maximise and align available resources which will make substantial savings and investment in the region of £1 million into highway drainage and flood alleviation to enhance the county’s resilience.

School crossing patrols have been protected despite earlier suggestions they would be scaled back to save money.

All parties’ proposals were based on a council tax increase of 1.99 per cent a year - which equates to 44p per week for a Band D property - and all set out to achieve total savings of £92 million - or 26 per cent - over a four year period.

The main changes between the agreed budget and the original Conservative proposal were:

* No cuts to the Supporting People Programme in 2014/15, allowing time for full planning and consultation of medium-term changes.

* £2.5 million investment over three years in new safer routes to school and 20mph school safety zone schemes, to ensure that children’s safety on their way to and from school is secured by road engineering solutions before cuts in school transport costs are implemented.

* Retention of a £200,000 a year budget to support school crossing supervisors at those locations where children’s safety cannot be achieved by road engineering measures.

* No further cuts to children’s centre budgets for at least three years, with a commitment for a full business case before any savings based on the development of multi-agency family centres are implemented.

* No further planned library closures, compared with the original Conservative plan to close nine of the remaining seventeen council-run libraries.

* No cuts in support to communities and community organisations in 2014/15, and a £300,000 a year reduction in the long terms savings target for this service.

* A new £1 million investment programme in LED street lighting - the Green Party wanted £2.3 million to be put in to provide ‘the best payback’ and to allow some lights to be switched back on.

* An agreed timetable for the restructuring of the senior management of the council in the medium term, with specific savings objectives built in.

Green Party member and Leamington Brunswick ward councillor Jonathon Chilvers was using social networking site twitter to post updates during the budget meeting.

Speaking this week, he said: “Warwickshire councillors should be shouting louder about the other options at national level like a Robin Hood Tax and payment of corporation tax by the likes of Amazon because otherwise the cuts land on the doorstep of the most vulnerable in Warwickshire.

“The Conservatives should be banging the door down of Osborne & co, both publicly and behind the scenes because it’s not possible to deliver good services to people in Warwickshire with the cash they’re offering. If we don’t make a fuss they’ll assume we’re fine.”