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Southampton City Council back from the brink?
SERVICES threatened by the worst-ever cuts could be pulled back from the brink after the council discovered it had more money than it thought.
Libraries, carers of sick parents, older people’s benefits, youth clubs and buses to hospitals were all facing cuts in a bid to save Southampton more than £20m.
But the Daily Echo can reveal city bosses have discovered they were given £5m more than expected from the Government’s annual funding settlement.
Finance chief Councillor Simon Letts said about £4m was now available to ease the pain and the rest would be banked in the council’s reserves.
However, opposition politicians called for all of the extra money to be spent on limiting the most painful cuts in Southampton’s history.
And those campaign groups fighting to save their threatened services are urging council bosses to reassess where the cuts are made. Tonight the ruling Labour group will be holding an emergency meeting to decide what services could be saved with the extra cash – just weeks before the final budget is signed off.
Cllr Letts said: “We are better off than expected in a bizarre twist of fate. The extra money will help alleviate some of the proposals that come forward this year.”
The windfall came about because the council braced itself for the worst case scenario, but in the end the Government was more generous.
More money was also available because the council is set to receive higher than expected business rates.
Cllr Letts said about £4m could be now available to stem the cuts but he said he may bank more than £1m because of uncertain economic times.
News of the extra money was greeted with campaigners fighting to save community services and bus routes.
Anger has been growing among residents, service users and city organisations as the scale of the cuts became clear. These include scrapping weekly bin services, hiking up council tax by two per cent and abandoning some pensioner benefits.
Some libraries could see their opening times slashed in half – sparking a petition with names including Southampton- born TV naturalist Chris Packham who slammed the cuts as “draconian”.
Ditching bus subsidies will see shift workers, students, pensioners and hospital visitors losing their evening, weekend and bank holiday bus services.
And, controversially, there are plans to axe £7m from services to vulnerable children, which includes shutting a children’s home as well as youth clubs and services, play centres and Sure Start facilities.
Funding could also be slashed to charities and organisations that help those with learning difficulties, special educational needs and disabilities and substance misuse problems. Young carers also face losing support and respite.
Campaigners against youth services cuts are planning a protest outside Southampton Civic Centre on Wednesday, January, 29, from 5pm.
Cllr Letts was tight-lipped about what could be saved until after tonight’s meeting but said that the money offered vital “breathing space” that would allow time to find alternative ways of operating threatened services ahead of next year’s even worse austerity plans.
But opposition parties and councillors say Labour should go back to the drawing board and rethink the cutbacks.
Lifeline for young carers
FOURTEEN-year-old Carla-Jayne Bartlett is urging council bosses to use the extra cash to save a
service that has become a lifeline to her and 119 other young people in the city.
She believes the Young Carers Project, run by Southampton Voluntary Services, should be at the top of the list of services to be saved as it means so much to so many vulnerable families.
Carla-Jayne, who cares for her disabled mother, said: “I would hope that the council decide to use the money to save the Young Carers Project because so many people have worked hard fighting to save it. It would be a shame for all that work to be wasted.
“It would be a real shame if the service wasn’t saved because it gives people like me the chance to have a break and people who haven’t had the chance to benefit from it never will.
“If it is saved there will be a lot of people who will be very happy. I will jump up and down and cheer.”
Use all the cash to reduce cuts – opposition
OPPOSITION leaders hailed the £5m windfall as an opportunity to bring the council back from the brink and show it “cares” about the people of Southampton.
Leading Conservative John Hannides told the Daily Echo that none of the £5m should be held back from saving threatened services.
He said: “We would have a clear agenda and the full amount would be put to good use in ensuring Southampton residents have got a council that will stand up for them and the key services they use.”
Cllr Hannides said the council should take advantage of the Government grant to help with the
introduction of council tax benefit.
He added: “If the council puts up £900,000, which it has so far refused to do, the Government will hand over £300,000 and that would bring in £1.2m that can be used to support Southampton residents on low incomes.”
Former council leader Royston Smith added: “There is absolutely no reason why hard working
families in Southampton should have their council tax increased.
“The Conservatives froze council tax for the last two years while we were running the council
and we would do it again of we were still in.
“Labour can also afford to reverse their pernicious attack on pensioners and special constables and keep the council tax discounts that those people need and deserve.
“In just a few short months Labour has reverted to type – taxing unneccessarily and spending wastefully.”
Councillor Adrian Vinson, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “I understand the situation
is not quite as bad as first feared but it’s still the worst the council has ever faced. I just hope that the administration’s revised budget will include significant changes from the draft.
‘’We’ll be putting forward our own proposals on budget day and the emphasis will be on protecting the most vulnerable people in our city.”
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