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Opposition forces B&NES Council to recant on key budget cuts

 

The Liberal Democrat-led B&NES Council was forced to recant on planned cuts to vital public services last night in the face of fierce condemnation and a rare display of unity from the opposition Conservative and Labour groups.

In particular, children’s services and adult advice services were saved from more stringent cuts after amendments tabled by Conservative councillors and supported by Labour.

Cllr Charles Gerrish - “The Council has been running a large budget surplus of £1.6 million and has put a huge amount of money away into its reserves in recent years, so we feel there is the financial scope to protect these priority services."

Cllr Charles Gerrish – “The Council has been running a large budget surplus of £1.6 million and has put a huge amount of money away into its reserves in recent years, so we feel there is the financial scope to protect these priority services.”

During the Council’s budget debate last Tuesday, 18th February, additional funding was also found for facilities for elderly and disabled people and £50,000 for a new fund to support foster children.

An attempt by the Council’s ruling Liberal Democrats to block the proposals failed after the Conservative amendments gained the support of both Labour and some independent councillors.

The Conservative amendments passed by the Council included an extra £200,000 for Disabled Facilities Grants, which provide elderly and disabled residents with facilities such as home adaptations to support more independent living; an extra £100,000 to protect the Council’s universally available Advice Services, which are run for the Council by the Citizens Advice Bureau; a new £50,000 Looked After Children Fund, which will provide activities, facilities and equipment for foster children and young disabled people, as well as to support the educational needs of young people in care.

The Council’s decision to approve to this extra funding came in addition to the Liberal Democrat administration agreeing to a Conservative plan to put extra funding back into protecting Children’s Centre services throughout the area.

“Our budget proposals aimed to do two things, to respond to the priorities of local residents, and protect services to children and the most vulnerable,” said Conservative shadow Resources spokesman, Cllr Charles Gerrish . “The Council has been running a large budget surplus of £1.6 million and has put a huge amount of money away into its reserves in recent years, so we feel there is the financial scope to protect these priority services.

“We’re therefore very pleased that a number of our budget amendments were agreed by councillors, it’s just sad that for no more than petty political reasons the Liberal Democrats tried to reject every single one of our efforts to protect children and vulnerable residents.  I think this will say a lot to residents about where each party’s priorities lie.”

Following the B&NES budget-setting meeting, Cllr John Bull (Leader of B&NES Labour Group) said “The Labour Group welcomes the additional money that has been agreed for Children’s Centres.  In particular, the Labour Group hopes that the additional £300K on-going revenue allocation will go some way towards preserving the present opening hours of Children’s Centres.

“The Labour Group also recognises that the Lib Dem Cabinet is committed to a new model of providing Children’s Centres services.  We hope that the extra £200K for 2014/15 will help to ease the transition to this new model.

“Both of these sums are the result of the campaign from members of the Labour Group, parents and supporters of the Children’s Centres who have ensured that this important service remains in the public eye.

“However, let’s not forget that this extra does not fill the enormous hole left by an on-going £1.5M cut to Children’s Centre budgets. 

“The Labour Group is also pleased that additional funding was agreed to fund emergency alarms for vulnerable adults.  

“However, ultimately, this is a Lib Dem budget, involving large amounts of capital expenditure which have not been subject to sufficient scrutiny, such as the proposed Gypsy and Traveller site.  Whilst the Labour Group supports the principle of the site, the absence of any detail makes it difficult to investigate what appears to be a very fluid budget for providing the site. 

“Finally, alongside significant cuts to Children’s Centres, there remain huge cuts to Adult Social Care which make it very difficult to see how the present levels of care for elderly and vulnerable people can be sustained. 

“A budget which fails to support the youngest, the oldest or the most vulnerable in our communities is not one that the Labour Group can support.  However, we accept that concessions have been made, particularly in respect of Children’s Centres.  For that reason, the Labour Group abstained on the budget vote.”

 
 
 

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