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Council agrees £16m cuts package
COUNCILLORS at Dorset County Council have voted for a multi-million pound cuts package that will almost certainly lead to the closure of libraries and day centres and the axing of paid school crossing guards.
A meeting of the full council voted to “pursue” a range of measures to save £16m from next year’s budget in addition to £10m of cuts already identified.
In an impassioned closing speech, council leader, Cllr Angus Campbell, said: “The reality is that the scale is huge, time is incredibly short, and we have to move forward.
"These are unprecedented times.”
But opposition group leader, Cllr Janet Dover, was scathing in her criticism of the budget proposals, lampooning council adverts for children’s library cards while library closures were proposed, and demanding “a Christmas present that people can really value”.
“We have insufficient evidence of your guiding principles to agree these cuts.
"Why are you targeting what we consider to be the most vulnerable groups in Dorset?” she demanded.
Chief financial officer, Paul Kent, repeated warnings given earlier to the cabinet that the council’s financial position was a bad as had been feared before Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles MP, singled out Dorset in the House of Commons on Tuesday (14) as alone in enjoying an increase to its “spending power”.
Mr Kent said that increase had been calculated by including the authority’s own council tax revenue and grants previously given to the NHS, and masked a real terms reduction of about £9m to its formula grant.
He added that Mr Pickles’ statement took no account of the council's expenditure, which he warned was likely to rise with inflation, or of demographic changes likely to increase the number of elderly people and those with learning disabilties.
But he said that officers' attempts to trace some £17m of funding feared "lost" in a simplification of specific grants had accounted for £10m of the missing funds, and vowed that the search would continue.
Deputy leader, Cllr Hilary Cox, said libraries were a “non-life threatening” service and argued that keeping just 18 of 34 buildings would still leave 91 per cent of residents within five miles of a library.
Proposals to close day centres will generate £816,000 from an overall savings target of £5.9m for adult and community services.
Adult care boss, Cllr Andrew Cattaway, said the back office structures had been singled out for savings.
But Liberal Democrat councillor, Richard Biggs, said proposals to reduce simple aids for home living, and subsidies for transport and hot meals to day centres, were all front line services.
Children’s services face a budget cut of £3.5m from which savings of £650,000 will be made by cuts to the careers advice service for 16 to 19 year olds, drawing accusations of short-termism from Shaftesbury councillor, Mervyn Jeffery.
Cllr Toni Coombs,cabinet member for childrens' services, pledged that statutory services to safeguard children’s safety would remain untouched.
Councillors voted to freeze council tax next year, choosing to take advantage of a £5.1m government grant equivalent to a 2.5 per cent rise.
The full council meets again in February to consider the results of a public consultation before its final decision.