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Page last updated at 16:10 GMT, Wednesday, 16 June 2010 17:10 UK
Spending Cuts: Suffolk councils await emergency budget
By Linda Walker
BBC Suffolk

Spending cuts graphic
Spending cuts are being planned in Suffolk's public sector

'There is more economic pain on the way and everyone in Britain will share it.'

This was the message from Prime Minister David Cameron, as he laid out the cost to each tax-payer of the financial deficit.

In Suffolk, councils are looking at ways to reduce spending, with Ipswich Borough Council already saving £2m on its budget.

Mid Suffolk and Babergh District Councils say the prospect of a full merger is becoming a reality.

The government has announced that it will cut back on the Local Government Settlement - which is the money central government gives to councils, which makes up around 80% of their funding.

The severity of these cuts is unclear, with authorities awaiting the emergency budget and a Comprehensive Spending Review due later in 2010.

Suffolk County Council has faced criticism for the decision to pay over £3000 a week to its new head of communications, a decision defended by the authority.

"That person has been tasked with implementing a whole raft of savings and will hopefully be cost-neutral," said Jane Storey, the deputy leader of the council.

"Ideally we wouldn't be paying a high salary, but it's the going rate and we have to pay that to get the best people."

Union opposition

Public sector trade union Unison has expressed its concern over the county council's decision to make changes to the Home First scheme, under which carers provide support for people once they've left hospital.

The service is staffed by county council employees and at any one time offers support to around 400 people.

Suffolk County Council's headquarters
Endeavour House, the county council's HQ in Ipswich

Staff who work for the service are facing changes to their contracts as Suffolk County Council tries to work out how it can plug gaps in provisions without spending any more money.

Unison believes Home First staff will be left out of pocket by the changes, but the council feels it is too early to speculate on these issues.

"No decisions have been made as yet," said Shaun Ovary, operations and partnership manager for Adult Community Services at Suffolk County Council.

"We are in a consultation period which will last until the end of August.

"We will be consulting with each individual member of staff and then we will put proposals to Unison and our senior management team."

Ipswich Borough Council is fully aware of the possible impact overall budget cuts may have and believes the savings made will provide an important buffer.

"We're certainly expecting government grants to Ipswich to be cut in the future and that is why we're being very careful now," said John Carnell, deputy leader of Ipswich Borough Council.

"This saving is money we can put in our reserves for next year when there will certainly be cuts in government expenditure.

"We've done it by very careful spending and taking a very cautious approach to our budget."

Merge to save?

Suffolk's district councils have for some time been looking to team up to save money and for Babergh District Council and Mid Suffolk Council plans for a full merger are becoming a real possibility.

"At a minimum level it could involve a shared chief executive and management team and there would be some savings from that," said Pat Rockall, the chief executive of Babergh District Council.

"Further down the line there could be a full integration of all of our services under that same management team so you'd have a single officer structure serving the two councils.

"Or, if you go further down the line, there could be a total merger to create one new council where there are currently two."

Earlier this year St Edmundsbury Borough Council and Forest Heath District Council set up a panel consisting of three councillors from each to look at joint working.

Cuts to the arts?

In the arts and culture arena concerns are growing over the effects grant cuts may have to services.

The Eastern Angles Theatre company, formed in 1982, tours its productions throughout the region and has previously received funding from the Arts Council.

"The issue now is that we're moving towards the end of that three year funding cycle and uncertainty exists on two levels," said Peter Funnell, Eastern Angles' chairman.

"One is whether there will be reductions in grants in the current year and probably more significantly is the uncertainty of regular funding for the year 2011-2012.

"We are planning for the possibility of cuts to the organisation and we are continuing to drive the artistic agenda so that we can attract an increasingly large audience to become more self-reliant."

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