STREETS and parks littered with rubbish, pensioners struggling to pay their bills, and a rise in youth crime and vandalism.
That’s the vision of Southampton that residents’ associations and youth workers fear will be the result of “appalling” budget cuts being proposed by Labour leaders at the city council.
Up to 327 jobs will be axed, services will be slashed and residents hit with new charges to save nearly £20m in the deepest budget cuts ever proposed.
Among the cost-cutting the council’s youth service and a children’s home will be closed down, parks and street cleaning budgets will be hacked back, new parking charges will be brought in and weekly collections of household rubbish have been put under threat.
And council tax in the city will rise by two per cent, or £25, for a typical band D property.
Pensioners in the city face the additional loss of a ten per cent council discount from April, leaving them £100 or more out of pocket.
And those with a residents’ parking permit will be made to pay a new £30 charge to park outside their homes, as well as up to £50 to have their garden waste collected.
Don Harper, secretary of the city’s pensioner’s forum, said many would have to make “tough choices” over heating or food bills.
“A lot of the Labour party supporters seem to think we’re all rich pensioners, but that is just not true. £100 is a lot of money for pensioners on fixed incomes,” he said.
Peter Wirgman, chairman of the Southampton Federation of Residents’ Associations, said: “The things that greatly worry me are the street cleaning and bin collections. In the areas I live the local residents’ associations are already having to do their own litter picks because of the lack of cleaning by the council.
“In some parts of Portswood there’s more vegetation in the gutter than in gardens. Going to fortnightly collections would be awful for all the houses in multiple occupation that produce a lot more waste. It all adds up to people on fixed incomes being asked to find more and more money.”
Jim Cappleman, a community activist and former chairman of the defunct Flowers Tenants and Residents’ Association, said: “I’m appalled by what’s going on. At the end of the day it’s the poorest residents that are going to suffer. How much more are they going to tax people whose budgets are already stretched to the extreme?”
Jo Ash, chief executive of Southampton Voluntary Services, said: “We are profoundly concerned about the scale of the proposed cuts and the impact it will have on local voluntary organisations and the most vulnerable people and communities that they support.”
She said meetings were being arranged with the council to present evidence and information on the impact the cuts will have on people and services.
She added voluntary groups were already experiencing the funding squeeze with increased demand for services and reduced resources.
One council youth worker, who did not want to be named, said staff had been left in “absolute shock” when the news was broken the department was closing with the loss of 29 jobs. “I don’t think anyone expected it,” he said.
He predicted fewer jobless youths helped to find work or training, while the loss of dedicated youth workers could see more petty crime, vandalism and antisocial behaviour.
He added: “Youth centres are places where they can go to feel safe and chat to adults to bring about a positive change to their lives. It will have a detrimental effect.”
Will Rosie, a youth and community worker, said the cuts would put more pressure on church and voluntary groups.
“I’m not surprised they are targeting youth services. Young people don’t tend to know how to use their voice. They are so used to disappointment and being let down by adults they just take it as that. The people that help them to have a voice are no longer going to be there.”
Socialist campaigner and former youth worker of 20 years Nick Chaffey called on Labour to refuse to implement the funding cuts.
“They are going to have a devastating effect on young people. Having support for young people and families can save you a fortune,” he said.
Labour council leaders have blamed Government funding cuts and policies of the previous Tory administration for the scale of the cuts.
Council finance chiefs reckon they will need to save £57m over the next three years, 30 per cent of their £200m budget, excluding schools, benefits and multi-year contracts.