Over the next two years Council Services will be hit by at least £12 million worth of cuts, after finance chiefs failed to hit budget targets. The current budget contained plans to find £11.2 million worth of efficiency savings from the community services directorate, over three years, including £3.5 million this year. The controversial cuts had included, shutting Dimensions splash pool, closing under used park bowling greens, axing one of the two mobile libraries, and reviewing the city's community centres. Now, only six months into the three year strategy, officers have admitted they cannot find this year's savings. They told the Improving Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting, that additional pressures such as the new equal pay scheme, and higher fuel, meant they are another £900,000 off budget. Council Officer, Kerry Cartlidge said that £12.1 million in savings must now be found by April 2011. She told the Committee that potential targets had been found, but did not say which services would be affected.
Committee Vice Chair Randy Conteh, said he did not believe Councillors would support the cuts.
Councillor John Daniels said members would have to do what was needed to balance the budget.
The total Council Budget for 2008/09 was £193 million. The savings targets are set by the Government, and if the Council fails to meet them, the Authority's rating by the Audit Commission could be affected.
Peter Kent-Baguley (Potteries Alliance), blamed unrealistic promises of low council tax rises, for the problems. He was of the opinion that the council needs to explain to the public, exactly why council tax has to go up, more than the rate of inflation. He said it was short changing the public.
Elected Mayor Mark Meredith said that Senior Members and Officers would work together to ensure we deliver all of the savings in the budget.
One of the proposed cutbacks in this years budget involved the City Farm Site, in Bucknall. The plan was to either shut it, or let a community group take it over. The members of the Improving Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee strongly opposed these plans. They called for increased funding, to transform the farm into a thriving attraction. Debbie Gratton, Portfolio Holder for Sports and Leisure, confimed that the Authority, was no longer looking to make any cutbacks at the City Farm.
The review of the proposed savings from community services budget is expected to finish in the New Year, when the findings will be reported back to the Improving Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
How I see it, is, that if the Council raises the Council Tax, the public complains, but if the Council Tax is kept low, and they start to cut services, the public complains, they can't win on this one. What services do you think should be cut back to save money? Give us your views.