I won’t be pulling any punches this week. The financial settlement announced by the Government on Monday was awful for the Council and the residents of Bournemouth.

At this early stage we believe that the reduction for next year is a massive £12.6 million less than the £82.9million received in 2010/11.

That is a 15.2 per cent reduction and is a direct, like for like comparison.

It is far beyond even the worst case scenario imagined and as a result, with just 48 hours notice, officers were not in a position to finalise the report that was due to come to Cabinet on Wednesday.

I have spoken in my blog previously of the wide-ranging preparations that we have made for difficult financial times.

We saw most, but not all of this coming. In just three years we have saved over £11million through careful planning and financial management, plus a further £7.7million of efficiency and other savings this year with £7.3million already identified for 2011/12.

The Council’s ambitious ten year transformation programme is intended to transform the way in which we deliver services that matter most to our residents and will begin to deliver huge savings starting in 2013/14.

It is the next 2 -3 years that will be the most challenging.

I have referred to our reserves which have been built up for a rainy day but we will not begin to consider dipping in to those reserves until every other avenue has been exhausted, because once that money has gone, it has gone for good.

This week at Cabinet we had a long and very productive meeting. We were particularly impressed by the deputation we received from members of Bournemouth People First, who came to make representations regarding the restructuring of day services for adults with learning disabilities.

It is important to stress that the proposed changes relate to social activities, and not to the care that people require in order to be safe and cared for in our society which can be up to seven days a week.

Nonetheless, social interaction is an important aspect of all our lives, and should be no less so for those with learning disabilities.

The plans will limit the number of days that service users can attend traditional day centres, and will require social activities for those in residential care to be provided by that care provider – who is already being paid to offer a package that includes not just board and lodging, but also meaningful social activities.

So clearly we should not be paying twice for the same services. These changes will affect around 100 people with learning disabilities, and Bournemouth People First were asking that the Council properly consults with everyone affected.

We gave the clearest undertaking to agree to that request and obviously that needs to extend to carers and / or advocates of people who have learning difficulties and may not be able to participate in those consultations by themselves.

We were also able to assure Bournemouth People First that sufficient flexibility will be built into the reorganisation of services to ensure that each service user has enough time to be involved and adjust to any changes.

Last night our Executive Director for Adult Services Judith Geddes met with a group of carers of people with learning disabilities. She reiterated the pledge and confirmed that individual views will be paramount and taken into full consideration prior to any final decisions being made.

This is a genuine attempt to facilitate improved quality of life for some vulnerable people in our society, giving them maximum choices about how to allocate their individual budgets, but which will also save around £500,000 a year, proving that we can become more cost-effective whilst improving services and protecting the vulnerable.

I will not go into detail on two other hot topics of the week – namely the surf reef and Waterfront / IMAX news, as my comments and views have already been widely reported. But what I do want to say now is that the money used for both these schemes is capital funding, and as such cannot be used to plug our funding gap and pay for frontline services.

Our budgets, including the setting of Council Tax have to be finalised in February of next year. Over the next few weeks, we will be grappling with the details of the massive cut to our budget and taking the necessary action to maintain front-line services.

Inevitably we will face difficult decisions and will consult as widely as we can and part of that process will be a round of Scrutiny and Overview meetings that will take place in January.

It just remains for me to wish you all a wonderful festive break, whilst also thanking those Council staff who will be working across the Christmas period, in areas of social care, parks and cleansing for example. This will be my last blog of 2010, and I look forward to hearing from you again in 2011.