TODAY is D-Day for the worst public service cuts in Southampton’s history.
Angry demonstrators including youngsters, library users, parents and union members are set to converge on the Civic Centre to protest against city council plans to slash £16.5m from its budget.
Along with opposition councillors they are expected to make emotional pleas to the Labour administration during the crunch budget meeting to think again.
However, with Labour in the majority their plans are expected to be voted through.
Despite the party members’ previous pledges to do all they could to stop job losses and avoid compulsory redundancies, 234 full-time equivalent positions will be lost out of the council’s 4,000 staff.
Park keepers, street cleaners, librarians, social workers and care managers are also among the casualties.
Council leader Councillor Richard Williams said: “This has been the most challenging budget I have ever been involved in.
“I don’t think local government has ever been here before. But my view is that people recognise this is a choice made by central Government.”
Under the budget plans children’s services will be hardest hit with £2.1m of cuts and 98 job losses planned.
The council’s residential children’s unit for traumatised eight to 12-yearolds, Our House, will close and the city’s youth service, which aims to create opportunities for 11 to 25-yearolds, will also be axed.
The budget for the city’s Sure Start children’s centres will also be cut by £1m a year.
An unexpected cash windfall of £5.8m from the Government saw the cuts reduced to £16.5m, with the rest of the windfall kept in reserve. It meant library opening hours will not be trimmed back so far while funding was put back into some youth services to tide them over until they could run themselves independently from next year.
The city’s districts were spared initial budget plans to introduce a 50p/hour rate in car parks, but business leaders have condemned the move to introduce evening city centre parking charges.
Older people are also set to be affected with a series of tax hikes.
The biggest financial blow will be the loss of the controversial ten per cent council tax discount brought in by the previous Tory administration, claimed by more than 8,000 households.
Charges for pest control and burying and cremating the dead will be hiked by five per cent.
Labour is also pushing ahead with its plans to remove bus subsides, threatening evening, Sunday and bank holiday services as well as routes to hospitals.
Tourism and heritage groups have slammed moves to shut the city’s tourism information and also the archaeology unit which safeguards the city’s rich past.
In their alternative budget the Liberal Democrats say they would lessen cuts to services to vulnerable people by using reserves.
Group leader Cllr Adrian Vinson says: “We can ease the pain for our most vulnerable citizens and we can safeguard the most essential community services, not just for this year, but for the next three years and beyond.
“The Labour administration’s budget is ironically conservative, squirreling away money for a rainy day when we are already in the eye of the storm.”