Angry debate as county council sets its budget

NO service escaped the axe Warwickshire County Council set its first budget since the Coalition announced its local government cuts.

The council needs to save £33 million over the next 12 months and £66 million over the next three years, and in response to calls from the Government, the county council’s share of the council tax bill was frozen at £1,155.25 for an average band D household.

But despite hours of debate, the outcome for services such as libraries, social services and the youth service remained much the same.

Council leader Cllr Alan Farnell (Con, Nuneaton Weddington) said the budget aimed to protect the most vulnerable, keep people safe, foster independence and support enterprise, while the authority would become a “business-based commissioning organisation”.

He said £1 million had been “put back” into the youth service, which had been earmarked for closure in the original November budget.

Advertisement

He said: “We may not be able to do as much as we or other parties would like but we are doing as much as we can with the finance we have and we must be realistic.”

But Labour group leader Cllr June Tandy said: “There is a growing realisation that the speed and depth of the cuts imposed on local authorities by the Conservative government is unacceptable and quite frankly wrong.”

The Labour group had proposed a 25 per cent cut in councillors’ allowances, cutting the number of cabinet members from ten to six and keeping the youth service’s £4.6 million funding.

Labour’s budget also included £50,000 cuts in catering and conference spending, closing recycling centres in Wellesbourne, Kenilworth and Stockton and shedding the arts, heritage and museum services, but keeping more money for voluntary services.

Advertisement

Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Jerry Roodhouse (Rugby Hillmorton) said no party escaped unscathed, but condemned the ‘front loading’ of the cuts, with the biggest savings coming in the first year.

He said the Labour group was in “deficit denial” but also called for the sacking of Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, whom he described as “no friend of local government”.

Cllr Roodhouse called for £1.8 million to be spent on the youth service over each of the next three years and condemned the Conservatives for announcing £2 million savings from the £7.4 million libraries budget at the end of the budget process.