Letter: Slash and burn approach to cutting services makes no sense

December 07 2012

As the Government works to tackle Britain’s unprecedented national debt problem and reduce public spending, it is only right that local councils take their share of the budget cuts.

Letter: Slash and burn approach to cutting services makes no sense

As the Government works to tackle Britain’s unprecedented national debt problem and reduce public spending, it is only right that local councils take their share of the budget cuts.

This process will inevitably mean that the Council has to look very hard at all its expenditure to see what is affordable, as well as work even harder to make its organisation more efficient.  Difficult choices will unfortunately be inevitable.

But the slash and burn approach which B&NES is taking to cutting local services makes no sense whatsoever, and is not a path followed by many other local authorities who are doing more to make their Council more efficient.

As part of last year’s Council budget, the Lib Dems cut the level of spending on drain and gulley clearing, verge trimming and road resurfacing, and tried to axe the mobile library, which is valued by residents throughout the area.

The Council was warned at the time that these were short-sighted cuts, and this has been proven correct, with the Council having to reinstate some of the funding it had planned to cut.

This year B&NES is cutting even deeper, with over half the area’s public toilets to be closed, food safety and trading standards services cut back to a minimum, whilst new charges were proposed at all car parks throughout the area.

Despite councillors voting last year to save the mobile library service, the Council is this year proposing to cut it by half.

Introducing parking charges at local car parks near to small, independent shops would obviously have a hugely damaging impact upon local trade as well as increase parking problems on nearby residential roads, so I am pleased that this idea has been dropped so quickly.

The problem in B&NES is that the Council is now playing catch-up with its budget reductions, after the Lib Dems put off a number of difficult decisions last year.

The Council failed last year to produce a full three-year financial strategy, which would have enabled it to plan ahead and mitigate against some of the deeper cuts it is now implementing.  Additionally, the reductions in staff posts slowed significantly last year, only to increase again this year and in the next two years.

This delay in slimming down the Council’s organisation will have cost the authority dearly and resulted in further service cuts which may otherwise have been unnecessary.

Unfortunately, I fear that the Lib Dems have not learned from their lack of forward planning.  This year the Council is making a very optimistic inflation assumption of 2% a year for the next three years.  If this projection turns out to be incorrect then the Council’s budget will be under even greater pressure, resulting in even greater cuts.

The positive is that the budget process is in its very early stages at the moment, so it is to be hoped that many of these concerns can be addressed before the final budget is agreed, with the Lib Dems agreeing to think again about some of their more damaging cuts to services.

Cllr Charles Gerrish

Conservative Shadow Cabinet Member for Community Resources