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Details of plan to save £98m revealed by Worcestershire County Council
BUS routes will be slashed, at-home care drastically reduced, thousands of street lights switched off and scores of services scrapped or downsized in a bid to save £98 million at Worcestershire County Council.
County bosses have revealed a three-year package to axe at least 600 jobs by 2017 by making the deepest cuts in the council’s history, including:
* About 100 bus routes being chopped – or fares raised
* At-home care visits to vulnerable people reduced and replaced by new ‘assistive technology’
* Thousands of street lights in residential areas switched off or dimmed at night
* A “likely” council tax rise next April for the first time since 2010
* Worcester’s popular Countryside Centre closed, handed to a new provider, or charges introduced for parking.
* Cuts to museums, the arts, and a major new drive to ‘commercialise’ services, which could include charging for them.
The measures were outlined at County Hall yesterday following months of work on how to respond to the public sector funding squeeze and “major demographic pressures”.
Old targets, including a plan to scrap about 600 jobs by 2017 will now rise, although bosses say the final tally will only be known closer to the end of that period.
All “non-essential” roles that become vacant will stay that way, with chief executive Trish Haines saying she will aim to “minimise” compulsory redundancies.
Every service is being examined to see if it could be provided by another organisation, including community groups, private companies and not-for-profit bodies. Council leaders say the package will save £30.3m in 2014/15, £25.1m in 2015/16 and £25m in 2016/17, kicking in from next spring.
The total comes to £98m once £17.9m of cuts for this financial year are factored in. The council’s yearly spend is about £340m.
The entire plan has been published in its early stages ahead of a major public consultation throughout the autumn and winter, before the 2014/15 budget is set in February.
It includes seven roadshows covering all corners of the county, meaning the public can get involved before anything is finalised.
The Conservative leadership says the figures could change, depending on what funding the council gets next year from central Government, with an announcement due in December.
But they insist the plans are likely to become a reality and are “planning ahead”.
Councillor Adrian Hardman, the leader of the county council, said: “It’s a difficult situation for the council but as I’ve said before we’ve got to plan for the worst, and hope for the best.
“Times are tough and these kind of savings will not come without having to make tough decisions.”
'THE DESTRUCTION OF A MAJOR LOCAL AUTHORITY'
“IT’S the destruction of a major local authority.”
That’s the way the opposition Labour group has described the £98m of cuts.
Coun Peter McDonald, Labour group leader at County Hall, says he will “fight against it all the way”.
It comes despite the Tory leadership saying it has to make savings to avoid a black hole developing in the budget.
Coun McDonald said: “What we are looking at here is the end of good, local authority services.
“The public are facing these cuts, yet we’re not going to get a reduction in council tax are we? It’ll go the other way.
“I have been fighting this for a long time and I will go on fighting it all I can.
“It’s a sad day for Worcestershire.
“I think even the council leader is shocked. It’s the destruction of a major local authority.”
Worcester MP, Robin Walker, said: “This goes back to my feeling that Worcestershire needs better funding, and I will help the council where I can.
"I will continue to make the case for the county, because it is clear the financial pressure is significant.”
Coun Hardman told your Worcester News that he will continue to lobby the Government for a better deal.
“There are challenging times ahead but we are determined that Worcestershire will become a stronger local authority which can continue to deliver these valued and important services,” he said.
“Many people will continue to receive services, but we will be changing the way we work and deliver them.”
* The public can get involved in the proposals by taking part in one of seven roadshow events across Worcestershire.
The first ‘Have Your Say’ roadshow will be in Evesham High Street on Friday, November 1, from 10am to 2pm.
Then, it will go to the Kingfisher Centre in Redditch on Saturday, November 9, from 10am to 3pm.
It will visit Bromgrove Farmers’ Market, near Barclays Bank on Saturday, November 16, from 10am-2pm.
A date is fixed for Malvern on Saturday, November 30, with the location yet to be determined.
It will be in Worcester’s Crowngate Shopping Centre on Wednesday, December 4, from noon to 5pm.
Finally, it will be at the Rowland Hill Centre in Wyre Forest on Saturday, December 7, from noon to 4pm.
ADULT care is bearing a significant proportion of the cuts, with £32m planned to be reduced from spending by 2017.
As part of that plan, the council wants to downscale care visits by offering vulnerable people “assistive technology” instead.
Private companies have developed devices which give people medication reminders, flag up meal times, detect falls and monitor their health.
Around 1,000 vulnerable adults use it in Worcestershire at the moment, but the aim is to roll it out to thousands more, replacing the need for staff to make visits in person.
The council say they will not force the technology on people who it doesn’t suit, but are determined to use it to save cash.
At the moment, 3,900 people get some form of adult social care in Worcestershire, and the department’s total cost is £145m a year.
As part of the changes, they also want to start giving people their own “budgets” so they can buy their own care, rather than get a package deemed suitable by social workers.
And they are also looking to beef up the county’s volunteer base so more people drop in on their near neighbours to see if they are okay.
Dr Richard Harling, the director in charge of adult social care, said he was hoping to deliver a “genuine transformation” in care.
“We will not change any thresholds under which people become eligible for care from us, that’s a very important point,” he said.
“About 1,000 people use the assistive technology now but we believe there is potential for much more.”
A report on the tactic says bosses believe users could top 10,000 by 2017 and that assistive technology will become the “primary” care method for people’s health and social care needs across the county.
AT the moment £3m is spent on subsidising 97 bus routes a year, but the council wants to slash about £1m off that.
To achieve the cut, all the routes being subsidised will be reviewed and the most expensive ones face being scrapped completely.
The council says a handful of them cost up to £7 per journey, meaning they are increasingly unsustainable.
On other routes, fares will be increased so people pay more, and all the services will be offered to outside bodies to run, like Dial-A-Ride.
Councillor John Smith, the cabinet member responsible for transport, said: “Some buses go past and there’s hardly anybody on them, costing taxpayers an awful lot of money.”
More details will emerge early next year about which exact routes are under threat.
UP: COUNCIL TAX
FOR the last three years, council tax bills have been frozen by the county council to help hardpressed households.
The Tory leadership says that situation is now “unlikely” to prevail in April 2014 due to the dire funding situation.
In recent years, the Government has offered town halls cash incentives, worth a rise of one per cent, in return for a freeze.
Councillor Hardman says he will wait and see what the offer is, if any, for 2014/15 before making his mind up, but doesn’t expect to take it this time around.
For the last three years Chancellor George Osborne has told councils looking to increase it by two per cent or more to hold a referendum.
He said: “I intend to wait and see what the Chancellor’s offer is, but it’s unlikely we’ll freeze it. I also think it’s unlikely we’ll go for a rise which would put us in referendum territory.” (two per cent).
OFF: STREET LIGHTS
THERE are 53,000 street lights in Worcestershire and the council’s current energy costs are £2.6 million.
From November 2012, the authority switched off two out of every three street lights in Droitwich between midnight and 6am, to see if it impacted upon crime or led to complaints.
After very little feedback, they now intend to roll it out across the county from April, saying it will apply to all estates and residential settings, but not main roads.
More than half the street lights could be switched off between midnight and 6am, depending on consultation feedback.
On top of that, of the lights that remain on 24 hours a day, efforts will be made to always use energy efficient bulbs.
The savings are expected to top £500,000 a year.